Walking together: Steve Davis reflects on 15 years of Gavi partnership

Girl in hospital bed with tube up her nose and mother comforting her.

Six-year-old Namfon was hospitalized in Vientiane, Laos, after contracting Japanese Encephalitis, a vaccine-preventable disease. Her mother, Teo, comforts her. Photo: PATH/Aaron Joel Santos.

There is an African proverb that says,

“If you want to walk fast, walk alone; if you want to walk far, walk together.”

In many ways, this proverb illustrates the success behind PATH’s partnership with Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance. Since becoming a founding member 15 years ago, PATH has walked in step with Gavi toward the same shared destination: to create access to lifesaving vaccines and strong immunization systems that reach all children, everywhere.

By continuing to walk together, let’s see just how far we can go

This week on Gavi’s blog, Steve Davis, president and CEO of PATH, provided insight on what it takes to develop and strengthen a global community of scientists, policymakers, advocates, regulators, medical workers, and caregivers to continue our good work.

Here’s an excerpt from his post:

While new vaccine introductions and current vaccination programs are saving lives each year, it’s not just developing and introducing vaccines that matters. The vaccines need to be delivered to the right people, in the right place, at the right time, and in the right condition.

Steve Davis walks through a village in India with a group of children.

PATH’s CEO and president Steve Davis says we must accelerate the progress of getting vaccines to the world’s most vulnerable. Photo: PATH.

This is at the heart of Gavi’s and PATH’s core values: employing the power of innovation and partnerships to ensure that the world’s most vulnerable are protected through equitable access to vaccines. This requires advanced and innovative supply chain systems, including vaccine transportation and storage solutions as well as ways to track supplies and vaccination coverage with accurate data.

You can read the post in its entirety on Gavi’s blog, Vaccineswork.org.

Friday Think: HeroRATs are awesome!

At PATH we talk a lot about innovative solutions to global health problems that are effective, simple, and in the best cases, have multiple uses. But occasionally we’re given pause, like when we encounter innovations that snooze in kennels at night and eat bananas during the day.

Meet the HeroRATs

Yes, rats. Even if you’re not a fan of the rat, we encourage you to read on.

For years, African giant pouched rats have been used in an innovative program in Africa and Southeast Asia to safely and inexpensively detect landmines left behind by conflict. (They can smell the mines underground, but fear not, rats are not heavy enough to set them off.)

More recently, the Anti-Personnel Landmines Detection Product Development (APOPO) “hero rats” have added a new skill: to swiftly and accurately identify tuberculosis (TB) in sputum samples. The rats have an acute sense of smell and are easily trained.

Rat standing on its hind legs to nibble at a banana held in a hand.

One rat can evaluate, in 10 minutes, more TB samples than a lab technician can do in one day. They also love bananas. Photo: Wikipedia.

When you consider how a swine’s sensitive schnozz can sniff out truffles, or a bloodhound can track fugitives, remember that rats also possess similar olfactory gifts. Fully 1% of their DNA is devoted to coding olfactory receptors, an incredibly high percentage.

Here’s an excerpt from Vice News:

…Dr. Emilio Valverde, a tuberculosis expert with the Belgian aid organization APOPO, runs a lab working on a new—seemingly bizarre—way to test for the disease.

Giant rat sits on his trainer's shoulders.

An African pouched rat perches upon his trainer’s shoulder. Photo: Reuters.

Valverde trains African giant pouched rats to sniff out tuberculosis. The cat-sized creatures—each about a foot long and weighing roughly 10 pounds—use their keen sense of smell to detect the presence of tuberculosis in saliva samples.

“The rats can process more than 70 samples in 10 minutes,” Valverde told VICE News. “This is work [that would take] a lab technician at least two days.”

Valverde says the current TB detection system used in labs around the world “isn’t bad, it just isn’t practical for a rural country with weak infrastructure and high TB rates like Mozambique.”

Rat in a glass box sniffing a sample.

TB sample sniffing in action. Photo: Apopo.org.

Hospitals use microscopy to look for the presence of TB bacilli, but the process is expensive. The machines cost about $17,000, and each sample costs $10 to test. Valverde says his giant rats offer a much cheaper, more efficient alternative.

Curious to learn more? Skeptical? The organization behind this effort, APOPO, has lots more information on their website, including a page of peer-reviewed publications about their work.

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Each week, we scour the news for the hottest stories on innovation. Our weekly feature, The Friday Think, highlights one we’ve found particularly fascinating.

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Learn more about the Anti-Personnel Landmines Detection Product Development (APOPO) HeroRats tuberculosis project.

APOPO is looking for a few good volunteers, in your neighborhood.


Friday Think: new Gates Foundation policy requires open access to research and data

Library shelves with books.

The open access movement is changing the landscape of how knowledge is accessed and shared. Photo: Anna Creech/Flickr.

What kinds of innovation could be unleashed if all researchers, scientists, and tinkerers had access to all the knowledge within their fields, knowledge traditionally collected in peer-reviewed journals?

While many scientific journals follow a “paywalled” model that restricts access to most of their current articles to fee-paying subscribers, an “open access” movement has arisen in the last two decades to challenge that paradigm. And, as the name suggests, it’s creating easier access to scientific (and other kinds of) knowledge.

As of January 1 this year, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has given that movement a boost, with a new and remarkably strong policy mandating open access to any research the foundation supports.

The website io9.com reports,

The policy will ensure that all peer-reviewed research funded by the Gates Foundation will be accessible—by the public, by other researchers, by anyone—the moment its findings are published. For free. The policy stipulates that published research be made available under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 Generic License, meaning it can be copied, redistributed, added to, even commercialized, by anyone. According to UC Berkeley Biologist Michael Eisen—a leading proponent of open science, and co-founder of the nonprofit open access scientific publishing project PLOS—the Gates Foundation’s policy “gets [open access] policy right,” and serves as a “model for funders, [governments] and universities.”

Chart about the changing landscape of open access publishing.

This chart details the changing landscape of open access publishing. Copyrighted by Macmillan Publishing.

The blog of the science journal Nature offered a slightly more skeptical perspective, saying,

This demand goes further than any other funding agency has dared. The Wellcome Trust, for example, demands a CC-BY licence when it is paying for a paper’s publication—but does not require it for the archived version of a manuscript published in a paywalled journal. Indeed, many researchers dislike the thought of allowing such liberal reuse of their work, surveys have suggested. But Gates Foundation spokeswoman Amy Enright says that “author-archived articles (even those made available after a 12-month delay) will need to be available after the 12-month period on terms and conditions equivalent to those in a CC-BY licence.”

How much research is currently available for free with open access? The European Commission published a report on that topic. (The report is, naturally, open access and not copyrighted.)

Nature blogs about that: Friday Think logo

More than half of all peer-reviewed research articles published from 2007 to 2012 are now free to download somewhere on the Internet, according to a report produced for the European Commission, published today. That is a step up from the situation last year, when only one year—2011—reached the 50% free mark. But the report also underlines how availability dips in the most recent year, because many papers are only made free after a delay.

To open the topic even further, here is a directory of open access journals. Enjoy.

Each week, we scour the news for the hottest stories on innovation. Our weekly feature, The Friday Think, highlights one we’ve found particularly fascinating.

Breaking the paradigm: how an essential vaccine was fast-tracked

Editor’s note: Recently, the World Health Organization (WHO) opened the door to include the meningitis A vaccine MenAfriVac® in routine childhood immunization programs. MenAfriVac is the product of a new development model that put country needs first and accelerated delivery of a new vaccine to those who needed it most.

Here to tell us more is guest contributor Dr. Kathy Neuzil, director of Vaccine Access and Delivery at PATH.

Mothers and babies in line under a shade tree.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has approved an innovative and affordable vaccine to protect infants from a major cause of deadly meningitis A. Photo: PATH/Gabe Bienczycki.

It’s an exciting day at PATH. We’re celebrating the World Health Organization’s (WHO) prequalification of an infant version of MenAfriVac®, a meningitis A vaccine that’s protected millions of children and adults from a devastating disease.

The prequalification serves as both a landmark achievement and an opportunity to reflect on our pioneering Meningitis Vaccine Project (MVP), made possible with funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

MVP was established 14 years ago, as a collaboration between WHO and PATH, in partnership with the Serum Institute of India Ltd. (SIIL) and public health officials across African countries.

Infant sleeping in a carrier on a woman's back.

Making an immunization essential for infants is the best option for long-term control, especially after it becomes part of a country’s routine health care. Photo: PATH/Gabe Bienczycki.

In 2001, MVP had one goal in mind: to eliminate epidemic meningitis in sub-Saharan Africa

For years, people living in the meningitis belt, a region that stretches from Senegal in the west to Ethiopia in the east, were regularly struck by meningitis A epidemics in which a sudden onset of disease could rapidly lead to death or permanent disability.

The epidemics would come in waves, affecting up to hundreds of thousands of people, with high mortality rates. The only existing meningitis A vaccine before MenAfriVac was ineffective in breaking these cycles, and expensive and difficult to deliver in hard-to-reach areas of sub-Saharan Africa.

Motorcycle with a box labeled BD

The MenAfriVac vaccine can survive hot, long-distance travel to remote towns and villages. Photo: PATH/Gabe Bienczycki.

MVP was unique and pioneering from the onset

Step one involved listening to the affected countries. Health ministers wanted a practical, affordable vaccine to alleviate the suffering of their people.

Step two focused on developing the tactics and strategy to achieve the goal. The latter wasn’t easy, and as one door closed, the MVP team made sure to open others, even when they were stuck, barred shut, or seemingly too small. If there was no door, then the team looked for a window.

The keys to success

It can take years, and often decades, for a vaccine to reach the public. This timeline is even longer in low-resource countries. Teamwork was critical to success.

MVP worked with an unprecedented number of global partners, including SIIL, the vaccine manufacturer, and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance. Our partners were visionary and had the end in mind at the beginning. Despite political instability and outbreaks of other diseases in the region, the team forged ahead.

Close up of a child looking over a woman's shoulder as he is carried at the MenAfriVac launch.

Close up of a child at the MenAfriVac vaccination launch in Burkina Faso. Photo: PATH/Gabe Bienczycki.

Remarkably, the first large-scale vaccination campaigns began in 2010, the same year that MenAfriVac was licensed and WHO prequalified for people aged 1–29 years. To date, not a single case of meningitis A has been reported among the more than 215 million people who have been vaccinated.

With the wonderful news of the infant vaccine approval and availability, this protection can now be extended to all babies in the region with the other essential vaccines that are routinely delivered to keep them healthy.

Why this was all possible

Another key reason for our success is that our country partners were involved from the start. We worked directly with countries to focus on the end goal; ensuring a vaccine price, supply, and implementation plan that focused on sustainability.

This sets us up for the next challenge. MVP didn’t stop problem solving when outbreaks were over. They knew meningitis was still out there. Yet to succeed, the team kept moving ahead and working hard even when a meningitis outbreak wasn’t in the news.

Table with MenAfriVac vaccine in an insulated box and a disposal box for syringes.

A health worker prepares her table during the launch of MenAfriVac in Burkina Faso. Photo: PATH/Gabe Bienczycki.

I’m entirely confident that, although MVP is coming to a close, the success of this program will continue because of our emphasis to put country involvement and country ownership front and center from the very beginning.

PATH’s role in the future

The greatest sign of success for us is to have programs at PATH wrap up, and then watch them continue on after empowering countries and partners to own them.

While MVP has achieved its last milestone—prequalification of the infant MenAfriVac—PATH, WHO, Gavi, SIIL, and other partners will continue to work diligently to assist countries in ensuring that our successes live on.

While we wish that MVP didn’t have to close, it is in fact this ending that will seal its place in history. MVP’s legacy will be measured in lives saved and disability prevented.

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Friday Think: turning waste into something good

Friday Think logoAfter Sanga Moses sold all his worldly belongings to fund a startup, his girlfriend slammed the door in his face and said, “if you want to waste your life, waste yours alone.”

And that’s when Sanga Moses decided to wallow in the waste by turning it into something useful: fuel for communities in Uganda.

Here’s an excerpt from National Geographic’s 2014 Emerging Explorers profile on Moses:

Sanga Moses

Sanga Moses, a National Geographic 2014 Emerging Explorer. Photo: National Geographic.

“When I was young, our home was surrounded by national forests,” (Moses) says. “Now all those trees are gone, and children must walk longer and longer distances to gather wood.”

Searching for a solution to problems born of burning wood, Moses quit his job and began learning everything he could about renewable resources. Eventually he came across the increasingly popular practice of turning organic waste into fuel.

A briquette-making machine that can run without electricity.

Eco-Fuel Africa has recently developed a briquette-making machine that can run without electricity. Photo: Kat Keene Hogue, National Geographic Creative.

“Uganda is primarily agricultural, but farm waste is just abandoned.”

So Moses began working with engineering students to design kilns and briquetting machines.

Four years later, 2,500 farmers use his kilns to turn farm waste—coffee husks and waste from sugar cane and rice—into charcoal. A company that Moses founded, called Eco-Fuel Africa, buys the char and turns it into briquettes for cooking that burn cleaner and cost less than wood.

Read the full story at nationalgeographic.com to find out more about how Sanga Moses became a National Geographic 2014 Emerging Explorer, one of several individuals identified as “tomorrow’s visionaries—those making discoveries, making a difference, and inspiring people to care about the planet.”

Each week, we scour the news for the hottest stories on innovation. Our weekly feature, The Friday Think, highlights one we’ve found particularly fascinating.

Friday Think: a game night at the museum

Friday Think logoBig news for all the adolescents out there who, for years, have insisted it’s good for them to camp out in front of a screen playing video games. Apparently the art of video games is a hot medium among nouveau art aficionados.

At least for those who live in Toledo, Ohio.

More than 52,800 people, many of whom were under 30 and male, attended The Art of Video Games at Toledo Museum of Art (TMA), an exhibit curated by the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

To say video games are a salve for the soul may be a stretch, but here’s the case for reaching out to a new audience through an accessible exhibit: only 1 in 10 attendees ended up being museum members. And it was one of the largest exhibits at TMA this year, drawing a distinctly different crowd.

But the innovation at the museum doesn’t stop at games exhibits. Read an excerpt from The Blade:

In January, the museum (2014-15 budget is $14.3 million) put its visual literacy philosophy, including teaching plans, online at VisLit.org.

A passion of museum director Brian Kennedy, visual literacy promotes careful and slower scrutiny of images in order to glean more information and think more critically. The entire staff and volunteers have received 12 hours of training on the topic. Moreover, the museum offers tours for the ultimate visual learners—babies—and is studying whether gazing at images improves vocabulary for toddlers and preschoolers.

And then there are the purchases, which don’t always follow the standard art acquisition fare:

Luca Giordano (Italian, 1634–1705), The Liberation of St. Peter. Toledo Museum of Art. Museum purchase.

Luca Giordano (Italian, 1634–1705), The Liberation of St. Peter. Oil on canvas, shortly after 1660. 79 by 121 inches. Toledo Museum of Art. Museum purchase.

It’s always fun to see what the museum buys and in 2014 the biggest, both physically and in terms of price, is a 350-year-old painting that’s nearly 6-by-10 feet and hangs in the Great Gallery. It’s ‘The Liberation of St. Peter,’ a dramatic depiction of an angel knocking the stuffing out of beefy soldiers, thereby liberating Peter from prison, by Luca Giordano.

If you want to read more about angels “knocking the stuffing out of beefy soldiers,” read the full article at the toledoblade.com.

Each week, we scour the news for the hottest stories on innovation. Our weekly feature, The Friday Think, highlights one we’ve found particularly fascinating.


Bold innovations: 7 global health picks of 2014

Powerful innovations emerged in 2014 offering bold new ways to save lives and improve health. To help us narrow the list, we stopped our PATH colleagues in the hallways, on the elevators, and after meetings to ask them what life-changing innovations caught their attention, both within and beyond our PATH footprint.

Here, in no particular order, are seven bright global health ideas that our colleagues felt made the world a better place to live in this year.

Young woman smiles as a health work administers a shot to her upper arm.

Vaccines are among the safest products in medicine—another reason we like them. Photo: PATH/Gabe Bienczycki.

The first vaccine allowed outside the cold chain

The MenAfriVac® vaccine campaign was the first mass vaccination campaign conducted in Africa with a vaccine that doesn’t require constant refrigeration. Currently, more than 200 million people have been protected with MenAfriVac, and not a single case of meningitis A has occurred among the vaccinated individuals. The vaccine remains viable even when kept outside the cold chain for up to four days, saving money on the costly vaccine “cold chain” and allowing the vaccine to reach more people in remote locations. (Learn more.)

Person behind the filigree window of a TB Hospital and HIV/TB Center.

PaMZ can cure some forms of drug-resistant tuberculosis in as little as four months. Photo: PATH/Nguyen Ba Quang.

New drug therapy offers tuberculosis treatment for HIV patients

A novel drug combination was unveiled at the AIDS 2014 symposium that allows HIV-positive patients to be treated for tuberculosis (TB) while they’re taking HIV drugs. Researchers from the Global Alliance for TB Drug Development say the new drug combination, known as PaMZ, can also cure some forms of drug-resistant TB in as little as four months. Current TB treatments take up to two years, increasing the chance of drug resistance among patients. (Learn more.)

A simple, low-cost injectable contraceptive launches in four African countries

“Women, no matter where they live, should have access to contraceptives that meet their needs,” says Sara Tifft, director of PATH’s Sayana® Press pilot introduction and evaluation project. Sayana Press, which PATH helped to develop, has the potential to reach tens of thousands of women who want the choice of an injectable contraceptive but who lack easy access to clinics where the injections are given. (Learn more.)

A woman looks into a microscope in a lab.

A global partnership has mobilized $4 billion to help finance and strengthen health systems in developing countries. Photo: PATH/Mike Wang.

A global partnership has mobilized $4 billion to help finance and strengthen health systems in developing countries. Photo: PATH/Mike Wang.

Innovative new financing facility boosts budgets for global health

This past year, the World Bank Group and Governments of Canada, Norway, and the United States came together to create a Global Financing Facility to help developing countries finance and strengthen their health programs, and build the necessary systems to end extreme poverty. So far, the partnership has mobilized $4 billion to fund a facility that’s expected to be fully operational in 2015. (Learn more.)

Latin American woman looks at the camera and smiles.

Eighty-five percent of cervical cancer cases occur in the developing world. Increasing prevention, screening, and care is essential in countries like Nicaragua. Photo: PATH/Mike Wang.

Cervical cancer self-sampling shown to be as effective as clinic-based exams

In a recent blog post, Dr. José Jerónimo, senior advisor for women’s cancers at PATH, says that when women are taught to self-test for human papillomavirus, it frees up the time of busy health workers. This dramatically increases the ability of clinics and hospitals to treat more women who test positive for precancer, thereby preventing cases of cervical cancer.

The self-sampling test works nearly as well as when doctors or nurses gather cervical mucus samples during a pelvic examination. Pelvic exams are a rate limiter—the exam takes time, limiting the number of women who can be seen by each trained provider.

Baby being admired as mother rests in background.

More than 190 countries signed on to support the Every Newborn action plan. Photo: PATH/Evelyn Hockstein.

First-ever Every Newborn action plan

Over the past two decades, improvements in newborn death rates have failed to keep pace with improvements for older children. The landmark Every Newborn: An Action Plan to End Preventable Deaths addresses this by focusing attention on existing low-cost, high-impact interventions that will prevent millions of newborn deaths and stillbirths across the globe each year. (Learn more.)

Technician in protective gear holding an antimalarial tablet.

Sanofi’s gold-standard artemisinin-based combination therapy, pictured here in the manufacturing plant, is now available to patients and health care facilities for the first time. Photo: Sanofi.

Malaria drugs made with semisynthetic artemisinin make their way to patients

The first shipment of semisynthetic artemisinin (ssART)-based malaria drugs—1.7 million treatments of Sanofi’s gold-standard artemisinin-based combination therapy, Artesunate Amodiaquine Winthrop®—made their way to customers for the first time. This opens a new future for the global artemisinin market. By providing a year-round source of this key ingredient in malaria medicine, ssART helps to manage imbalances in supply and demand, and maintain stable and affordable pricing—ultimately expanding access to treatment. (Learn more.)

Powerful stories: our 2014 global health reporting picks

Video capture of Liberian man in the street with subtitle about Ebola.Every year powerful reporting is published and broadcast globally on a wide variety of global health topics, and 2014 was no different. PATH’s media relations team reads, watches, and listens attentively, summarizing the best for our staff each week. So we asked the team to think about which stories had made the biggest impression on them this year, for the quality of the reporting and the power of the narrative.

While Ebola was a focus of much of this year’s coverage, they also cited excellent pieces about reproductive health, noncommunicable diseases, and deadly mosquitos. Here, listed in no particular order, are a few of PATH’s picks for best 2014 global health reporting.

Fighting Ebola Outbreak Street by Street
Ben Solomon, New York Times, October 16, 2014

“We were all moved by the powerful on-the-ground video reporting from the New York Times’ Ben Solomon and his crew,” says PATH’s senior media strategist Kate Davidson. “This video, in particular, conveys the chaos and fear in the streets of Monrovia, in an up-close, visceral, and indelible way.”

The Future of Sex?
Emily Anthes, Mosaic, March 2014

Once derided as being like a plastic bag with the erotic appeal of a jellyfish, the female condom is being reinvented as the next big thing in safe sex. 

“Working at PATH, where we developed the Women’s Condom, you would think I would know all about it,” says communications associate Molly Haas. “But this in-depth article provided great new perspective on the challenges of developing, introducing, and especially popularizing the female condom.”

Mothers in Egypt feeding their babies with the rehydration solution.

A mother feeds her baby with the rehydration solution. Photo: BBC.

The Man Who Helped Save 50 Million Lives
Lin Lin Ginzberg, BBC Health Check, August 2, 2014

A solution of sugar, salts and water, many of which can be found in a kitchen cupboard, can be all it takes to save a child’s life—and it has saved an estimated 50 million people. But finding the right balance was crucial—and Dr Norbert Hirschhorn played a key part.

“I am always intrigued by the story of simple innovations with lifesaving reach,” says Claire Hudson, media relations associate. “And it would be hard to find a simpler, or more powerful and impactful innovation than oral rehydration salts.”

Microscope image of mosquito close-up.

Microscope image of mosquito close-up. Photo: Gates Notes.

The Deadliest Animal in the World
Bill Gates, Gates Notes, April 25, 2014

“This creative, week-long multimedia feature got our attention with its playful spin on ‘Shark Week’ and impressed us with its hard-hitting reporting on the deadly impact of mosquito-borne diseases,” says Amy MacIver, PATH’s director of communications. “I am a huge fan of finding innovative ways to convey the challenges we face in fighting these complex diseases.”

Neglected tropical diseases: Trachoma, schistosomiasis and river blindness documentaries
Al Jazeera Lifelines

Lifelines is a TV documentary series on global health topics funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. “All of their coverage is generally very strong,” says Lippi Doshi, a senior communications associate. “But this multi-part series on neglected tropical diseases, in particular, brought great long-form documentary coverage to this very important topic.”

African DJ in a radio booth.

Elliott Adekoya, 31, aka The Milkman, is a DJ at Monrovia’s Sky FM radio. Photo: NPR.

Liberian Singers Use the Power of Music to Raise Ebola Awareness
Jason Beaubien, NPR News, October 12, 2014

The Ebola scenario is something that people don’t want to listen to anymore, because they’re so fed up, so sick of it,” (Liberian DJ Adekoya) says. “If you’re making a song—an Ebola song that people gonna listen to now—it has to be danceable.

“This is a story made for radio,” says senior media strategist Kate Davidson, “and exemplifies Jason Beaubien’s talent for finding characters and perspectives other outlets miss. These songs are a beacon of hope during a very dark time.”

Friday Think: a wastebasket full of possibilities

Friday Think logoThe world’s thinnest and possibly strongest material was found in a lab’s wastebasket.

Trash cans aren’t the usual places where you’ll find the next big thing. But Andre Geim, a physics professor at the University of Manchester, has always believed important discoveries are the result of “curiosity-driven research. Something random, simple, maybe a bit weird—even ridiculous.” Par for the course from a previous Ig Nobel Award winner who used electromagnets to levitate a frog (learn more about his experiment “Of Flying Frogs and Levitrons”).

Magnetically levitating a live frog.

Magnetically levitating a live frog, an experiment that earned Geim and Michael Berry the 2000 Ig Nobel Prize. Photo: Wikipedia.

What Geim and his assistants found in the wastebasket that day was a wad of Scotch tape covered with a film of graphite residue.

Here’s an excerpt from an article written by John Colapinto in The New Yorker:

In the fall of 2002, Geim was thinking about carbon. He specializes in microscopically thin materials, and he wondered how very thin layers of carbon might behave under certain experimental conditions. Graphite, which consists of stacks of atom-thick carbon layers, was an obvious material to work with, but the standard methods for isolating super thin samples would overheat the material, destroying it. . . .

Graphene is made of carbon atoms.

Graphene, an atomic-scale honeycomb lattice made of carbon atoms, was once considered impossible to isolate. Photo: Wikipedia.

One of his senior fellows glanced at a ball of used Scotch tape in the wastebasket, its sticky side covered with a gray, slightly shiny film of graphite residue.

It would have been a familiar sight in labs around the world, where researchers routinely use tape to test the adhesive properties of experimental samples. The layers of carbon that make up graphite are weakly bonded (hence its adoption, in 1564, for pencils, which shed a visible trace when dragged across paper), so tape removes flakes of it readily. Geim placed a piece of the tape under the microscope and discovered that the graphite layers were thinner than any others he’d seen. By folding the tape, pressing the residue together and pulling it apart, he was able to peel the flakes down to still thinner layers.

Geim had isolated the first two-dimensional material ever discovered: an atom-thick layer of carbon, which appeared, under an atomic microscope, as a flat lattice of hexagons linked in a honeycomb pattern. Theoretical physicists had speculated about such a substance, calling it “graphene,” but had assumed that a single atomic layer could not be obtained at room temperature—that it would pull apart into microscopic balls. Instead, Geim saw, graphene remained in a single plane, developing ripples as the material stabilized.

To find out more about graphene and its possible uses, read the full article at The New Yorker.

Each week, we scour the news for the hottest stories on innovation. Our weekly feature, The Friday Think, highlights one we’ve found particularly fascinating.

Condom dancers, vaccine smilers, and toilet sweepers: our favorite 2014 photos

Sometimes a single photo conveys more about our work than a thousand words ever could. Here’s a look back at some of our favorite 2014 PATH images.

Girl looks back at camera among a large group of girls facing the other way in a classroom.

This classroom full of girls at Nakasangola Primary School in Uganda is brimming with pre-teen energy. Several years ago, these girls were among the first in Africa to receive the HPV vaccine. During this 2014 follow-up visit, the girls and their teachers were still able to offer detailed explanations of how the vaccine protects them from cervical cancer. (Learn more.) Photo: PATH/Will Boase.

Laotian boy sweeps out a brightly tiled bathroom.

This photo from Laos stood out among the submissions for the 2015 Places We Go calendar. We love the beautiful tile pattern, unusual angle, and the piercing gaze of the student (not to mention the sparkling cleanliness of the toilet!). We also loved the story communicated in the image: through the GIZ Regional Fit for School Programme, students learn healthy hygiene habits and help maintain the school’s toilets, creating a ripple effect in families and communities. (Learn more.) Photo: GIZ/Ivan Sarenas.

Two dancers in motion with a Dance 4 Demand banner behind them.

On Global Female Condom Day 2014, dancers all over the world joined the “Dance4Demand” advocacy effort to highlight the need for increased access to female condoms. We love the energy of these dancers photographed while performing at a popular mall in Johannesburg, South Africa. (Learn more.) Photo: PATH.

A girl smiles while receiving a shot.

That smile! In all our decades of vaccination campaign work, this might be the biggest smile-while-getting-a-shot we have ever encountered. The Japanese Encephalitis vaccine, which PATH worked to accelerate and get approved by the World Health Organization, was distributed in April by the Laotian government in a campaign partly supported by Microsoft employee donations. (Learn more.) Photo: PATH/Aaron Joel Santos.

Fisherman sitting on boat at sunset.

In communities across southern Zambia, the comprehensive malaria elimination efforts led by the government, PATH, and our partners are starting to bear fruit. Today the disease is still affecting the fishing villages along Lake Kariba, but we are optimistic that this fisherman’s children may grow up into adulthood in a malaria-free Zambia. (Learn more.) Photo: PATH/Gabe Bienczycki.

Photographer Gabe Bienczycki takes a photo as kids gather around him.

Bonus behind-the-scenes photo: The fisherman portrait shown above conveys an almost classical serenity, but in fact the mid-December photo shoot on the shore of Lake Kariba occurred at the epicenter of a joyful (and muddy!) mayhem of children, onlookers, stray dogs, and grazing cows. This was photographer Gabe Bienczycki’s fourth trip for PATH, and we look forward to sharing more of his remarkable Zambia portraits, and a short video about his process, in 2015. Photo: PATH/Tom Furtwangler.