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PopTech conference lifts the lid on a cauldron of innovative ideas

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A polar scientist looking at a massive ecosystem buried miles beneath Antarctica. A social innovator asking what would happen if society could tap the "human capital" that it now wastes. A plant geneticist who sees a compatibility between scientists trying to solve the world's food crisis through genetic modification and those using organic methods to develop sustainable agriculture.

The annual PopTech conference in Camden, Maine, is a prolific incubator of innovation. These were only three of many presenters on the first day of the conference, which I'm attending for the third year.

PopTech not only brings together a fascinating group of speakers over an intense three days in late October, but its work also continues year-round through a series of projects. PopTech tries to provide the "glue" to join innovators in disparate fields to create an engine for solutions to world problems (more on "Project M" in another post).

Even the requisite nylon goodie bags routinely handed out at conferences get an innovative twist here. Attendees can donate their bags (they have no embarrassing logos, so anyone can use them) to a student group called Peace Games that works to calm inner-city violence. Attendees could even bring handout bags from other conferences they've attended and recycle them here.

If you're reading this while the 2008 conference is still under way (Oct.  23-25), I urge you to take a look for yourself via the live web feed. The talks are archived, too, but may not be available immediately. A few clicks around the website will also give you a keener sense of the bubbling cauldron of ingenuity that is PopTech.

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