Eight Innovators to Watch in 2020

From plastic recycling pioneers to landmine foes, these dreamers have big plans for the coming year

(Clockwise from left) Michela Puddu, Elias Sime, Richard Yim and Miranda Wang (Michela Puddu, Brett Moen, Richard Yim, YouTube)
smithsonianmag.com

Our New Year’s resolutions are likely to involve something prosaic like “eating more vegetables” or “not sleeping with my phone next to my pillow.” But we are mere mortals. These following eight innovators have goals like “get rid of landmines” and “invent an electric airplane.” We're going to keep our eyes on them in the coming year: we have a feeling their grand ambitions won’t be as easily abandoned as our healthy eating plans.

Ethical Production Watchdog Michela Puddu

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(Michela Puddu)

Consumers are increasingly interested in sustainable, ethical products—diamonds whose mining didn’t involve or fund human rights abuses, textiles made by workers paid a living wage. But supply chains are long and opaque, and labels like “conflict free” or “fair trade” can be applied dishonestly. How can you know the truth about where your ring or sweater comes from?

DNA, says Michela Puddu. Puddu is co-founder and CEO of Haelixa, a company that uses DNA-based tracing technology to prove product origin and integrity claims. She developed the system while completing her PhD in chemical engineering at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH Zurich). Today the company focuses on precious materials and textiles. They can trace stones back to their exact mines of origin, and determine whether “sustainable” fabrics have been mixed with lower-quality threads. Puddu hopes to expand their offerings in the coming year. Her work earned her a 2019 Rising Innovator Prize from the European Union.

“[In] 2020 I will wake up every morning thinking how I can push the company forward,” Puddu says. “I am also committed to collaborate with today’s leaders and inspire future ones, particularly women, to achieve and accelerate [sustainable development goals].”

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