September 17, 2006

science is hard

Almost a year ago I had an idea for increasing the power output of fuel cells. It was pretty simple, so I did a quick literature search to see if anyone had tried the same thing before: Evidently, they hadn't. Because it would take me some time to try the idea out, I went ahead and filed a "preliminary patent application" or PPA, which protects such an idea for one year while you experiment and refine the idea, and then you must file a full patent application or lose your rights.

After filing the PPA I assembled the equipment to try the idea, and after about two months of failing to get it to work, I put it aside in frustration. Then, about a month ago, I realized that the one year deadline was fast approaching. I decided I'd better give it one more shot before abandoning the idea.

I had a few new ideas for variations to try, and I tried all of them as best I could. No luck (although I did get to entertain some guests at our studio with wacky noises). At this point I always feel a little foolish, like, why do I bother trying these things? Who am I to think I know anything about this technology, or that my ideas are better than those of the folks who work on the same problems every day in a lab somewhere?

Still, I can't help it. I occasionally feel compelled to tackle a problem such as this with all my faculties, and I've failed repeatedly. But I enjoy the process and the idea that, perhaps, one of these days I'll make a real contribution. Posted by todd at September 17, 2006 04:26 PM