Standing behind a table covered in equipment and with a projection screen ready to go, John Berg, inventor, scientist, and engineer, prepared for his presentation at the Mattapoisett Museum on April 11.
The assembled had come to hear Berg speak about the LED lighting system he and his team at Carpe Diem, a Franklin company he helped to found, had developed to light the tower commemorating the lost souls of September 11, 2001. And while they certainly heard about the technology involved in supplying the monument with a beam powerful enough to be seen 50 miles away, they also heard a man tell an amazing story of a creative mind constantly spinning new solutions to modern problems.
Berg began at his beginning, as a boy being raised in Dartmouth by a working-class family. He said he was always trying to find solutions to problems he faced, like weeding the garden. The youngster with the unrestrained imagination found a solution – why not use the geese raised on the property to do the work for him? Berg explained the mechanics.
“I built a cage to contain the geese, then they would eat the weeds.”
The moveable living weed whacker was created, giving the boy the freedom for other projects.
In sharing this first tidbit, Berg said his presentations have been primarily for school children – children who he was trying to excite and encourage to get involved with S.T.E.M. programs. But he was also exposing the development of his own creative process, one where boundaries truly could be leapt if only one tried.
When he was in the eighth grade, he became fascinated with space travel. He watched the popular TV programs of the time, such as Star Trek, and dreamed about states of suspended animation that he believed would be necessary to travel through space. This led him to his own study of hamsters at home in his basement.
Berg said that he learned hamsters would go into hibernation if exposed to a temperature of 45 degrees. He placed two critters in the family refrigerator, he said, “behind the bottles of milk and food so they couldn’t be seen.” However, when the desired effect had been achieved, he thought that he had killed the tiny test subjects. Taking them back to the basement before anyone could see what he had done, he left the lifeless bodies there. When he returned later, they were gone. Berg was pleased and relieved. The experiment had worked!
Then, there was the windmill.
By the ninth grade, Berg was hearing about the energy crisis taking over the country. This was yet another problem to be solved. With a burgeoning mind focused on creative solutions, Berg’s thirst to understand and to explore possibilities increased. Berg called his mother at work to explain that he would be building a windmill for their home and installing it on the garage roof.
“I don’t think she heard me clearly,” he said with an impish smile.
Somehow, the young man gained the cooperation of a neighbor with a crane – yes, a neighbor with a crane – and placed the windmill he’d constructed on the roof. There was the need to cut a hole in the garage roof for the associated wiring and assembly, but those details were small for young Berg. The windmill was up and would solve the problem of providing energy to the household – until his mother came home.
“That was not a good day,” Berg confessed. He learned quickly how to repair a roof.
Undeterred by early failures, as often is the case with inventors, creators, and those whose minds go where others do not, Berg knew early on that he would study mechanical engineering.
Because of his intense interest and desire to get into the space program, Berg attended the Naval Academy Preparatory School in Newport, “because all the astronauts were Navy guys.” Later, he would study engineering at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth and, still later, complete his education at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
After realizing that, perhaps, a career in aeronautics was a bit too boring for his active imagination, Berg would venture off becoming a prime mover in the world of start-up companies working on a variety of solutions such as 3-D printing, fingerprint analysis, anti-theft locks for the retail industry, and LED lighting.
Carpe Diem would be selected for the New York Port Authority’s premiere project formerly known as the “Freedom Tower” and now called “One World Trade Center,” the tallest building in the western hemisphere.
“It’s the brightest LED ever built,” Berg said.
He, along with the staff members, are now working on maintenance issues that have arisen since the first rays of intense light were beamed into the heavens – that issue being lightning. How does one protect the LED system when lightning strikes the tower?
Berg passed around a diode currently in development to protect the delicate lighting system. The technical team thinks they are on the right track.
“I’ve built a career on past experiences,” said Berg.
From hard drives – or should one say, from ‘gardening solutions’ to DVD optical storage to fiber optics and holographs, it’s all in Berg’s wheelhouse.
As science continues to be challenged by the demands of modern mankind and vice versa, Berg is exploring the potentials that may be found in nano-science and manufacturing possibilities therein. He spoke of pigment-less plasmatic color and how major players in the virtual world – Google, Facebook, and Apple, to name a few – are pouring “big money into it.”
And the list of possibilities goes on, as Berg’s Carpe Diem group considers medical uses for nano-technologies. He explained that the scales of the Galapagos shark, which do not allow the growth of bacteria, could be replicated in the laboratory with the same result.
“This is being explored for catheter tubing,” he said.
For anyone who has suffered infection via medical appliance introduction, this understated discovery is quite significant.
Berg’s presentation was a grand conclusion to the museum’s exhibit titled, “Movers and Shakers,” which debuted in the summer of 2018.
By Marilou Newell