John Davis, a chemist in Bloomington, Ill., knows about concrete. For example, he knows that if you keep concrete vibrating it won’t set up before you can use it. It will still pour like a liquid.
Now he has applied that knowledge to a seemingly unrelated problem thousands of miles away. He figured out that devices that keep concrete vibrating can be adapted to keep oil in Alaskan storage tanks from freezing. The Oil Spill Recovery Institute of Cordova, Alaska, paid him $20,000 for his idea.
The chemist and the institute came together through InnoCentive, a company that links organizations (seekers) with problems (challenges) to people all over the world (solvers) who win cash prizes for resolving them. The company gets a posting fee and, if the problem is solved, a “finders fee” equal to about 40 percent of the prize.