Buckminster Fuller Challenge 2010

Every year, The Buckminster Fuller Challenge awards a $100,000 prize to a project that has the potential to solve humanity's most pressing problems and significantly improve human quality of life. The competition was inspired by the legendary architect and futurist's guiding principle: "To make the world work for 100% of humanity, in the shortest possible time, through spontaneous cooperation without ecological offense or disadvantage of anyone." After spending the majority of his life examining and tracking the world's resources, human needs and scientific innovation, Fuller became convinced that there were options out there to divert and prevent the world's impending crises – they just had to be extracted from the brilliant minds that hold them. So he issued an urgent challenge for a design-science revolution to make the world work for all.

This year's winner, Operation Hope, uses livestock to reverse desertification, providing permanent water and food for Africa's impoverished millions. From biodiversity to behavioral psychology, the project employs a holistic, ambitious framework for managing desertification from an environmental and social angle. The approach has been in development by Operation Hope founder Allan Savory – a former farmer, wildlife biologist and politician – for the past 50 years, and uses an extraordinary amount of research to challenge the dominant theory by positing that desertification is ameliorated, rather than caused, by grazing livestock. This excellent SEED Magazine article goes into greater depth about the science behind the project.

The finalists were equally ambitious and impressive – from Brooklyn-based BK Farmyards, which utilizes the 10,000 acres of unused land in New York City for urban farming, to Watergy, a bionic greenhouse that prevents water loss by creating a closed system that harnesses the water already available within it.

Explore the six finalist projects for a some of the most inspired, revolutionary thinking at the intersection of design and science for social change.

Maria Popova is the editor of Brain Pickings, a curated inventory of miscellaneous interestingness. She writes for Wired UK, GOOD Magazine and Huffington Post, and spends a shameful amount of time on Twitter.

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