Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Science in the Kitchen- Lecture 12- Nathan Myhrvold


Nathan Myhrvold (former Microsoft CTO; co-founder and CEO of Intellectual Ventures; and author of Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking)

This public lecture series discusses concepts from the physical sciences that underpin both everyday cooking and haute cuisine. Each lecture features a world-class chef who visited and presented their remarkable culinary designs: Ferran Adria presented spherification; Jose Andres discussed both the basic components of food and gelation; Joan Roca demonstrated sous vide; Enric Rovira showed his chocolate delicacies; Wylie Dufresne presented inventions with transglutaminase. The lectures then use these culinary creations as inspiration to delve into understanding how and why cooking techniques and recipes work, focusing on the physical transformations of foods and material properties.

Who is Nathan Myhrvold?

Nathan Paul Myhrvold (born August 3, 1959), formerly Chief Technology Officer at Microsoft, is co-founder and 40% owner of Intellectual Ventures, a patent portfolio holding company. Myhrvold, usually with co inventors, holds 17 U.S. patents assigned to Microsoft and has applied for more than 500 patents. In addition, Myhrvold and co inventors hold 115 U.S. patents assigned mostly to The Invention Science Fund I, LLC.

Early Life and Education

Myhrvold was born in Seattle, Washington. He attended Mirman School, and began college at age 14. He studied mathematics, geophysics, and space physics at UCLA (BSc, Masters). He was awarded a Hertz Foundation Fellowship for graduate study and studied at Princeton University, where he earned a master's degree in mathematical economics and completed a PhD in theoretical and mathematical physics. He also attended Santa Monica College. For one year, he held a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Cambridge working under Stephen Hawking (along with a number of other students).


Early Career

Myhrvold left Cambridge to co-found a computer startup in Oakland, California. The company, Dynamical Systems Research Inc., sought to produce Mondrian, a clone of IBM's TopView multitasking environment for DOS. Microsoft purchased DSR in 1986 for $1.5M.

Myhrvold worked at Microsoft for 13 years. At Microsoft he founded Microsoft Research in 1991.

Intellectual Ventures

After Microsoft, in 2000 Myhrvold co-founded Intellectual Ventures, a patent portfolio developer and broker in the areas of technology and energy, which has acquired over 30,000 patents. Myhrvold allegedly owns approximately 40% of Intellectual Ventures Management Company, generating $20M-$40M annually in "management fees" for Myhrvold. Intellectual Ventures exploits the market for inventions and patents, buying patents from inventors under the assumption the patents will be more valuable in the future. IV also files patents through the work of a team of on-site inventors and thousands of other inventors within their network who respond to IV-created "Requests for Invention". It also buys patents from companies and inventors. In certain, limited circumstances IV reduces these inventions to practice. However, in most cases, IV's "inventions" are limited to the descriptions cited in their patent applications. IV then licenses the patents in patent-portfolios (bundles). IV purports to be assisting in the creation of a market for patent-backed securities. The business practices of Intellectual Ventures have caused controversy, and the company has been described widely as a patent troll company.

Nuclear Power

TerraPower, a subsidiary of Intellectual Ventures, aims to develop a nuclear reactor that is "safe and cheap" as part of Bill Gates' strategy to reach the goal of zero carbon emissions globally by 2050. Gates unveiled this plan at the TED 2010. The plant will run on natural or depleted uranium with the potential for 30 years without refueling.


Myhrvold is also a prize-winning nature and wildlife photographer and is a member of the USA Science and engineering Festival's Advisory Board. He has also been involved with paleontological research on expeditions with the Museum of the Rockies. His work has appeared in scientific journals including Science, Nature, Paleobiology (With Philip J. Currie), PLoS ONE and the Physical Review, as well as Fortune, Time, Scientific American, National Geographic Traveler and Slate. He and Peter Rinearson helped Bill Gates write The Road Ahead, a book about the future that reached No. 1 on the New York Times bestseller list in 1995 and 1996. Myhrvold has contributed $1 million to the nonprofit SETI Institute in Mountain View, CA, for the development of the Allen Telescope Array, planned to be the world's most powerful radio telescope.

After the Science Museum in London successfully built the computing section of Charles Babbage's Difference Engine #2 in 1991, Myhrvold funded the construction of the output section, which performs both printing and stereotyping of calculated results. He also commissioned the construction of a second complete Difference Engine #2 for himself, which has been on display at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California since May 10, 2008.


In addition to his business and scientific interests, he is a serious amateur chef. Myhrvold's early culinary training was as an observer and unpaid apprentice at Rover's, one of Seattle's leading restaurants, with Chef Thierry Rautureau.

After working for two years as a stagier at Seattle's top French restaurant, Rover's, Myhrvold completed culinary training with renowned chef Anne Willan at the Ecole De La Varenne. In addition, he has worked as Chief Gastronomic Officer for Zagat Survey, publisher of the popular Zagat restaurant guidebooks. Through his many visits to the world's top restaurants, Myhrvold has become personally acquainted with many of the leading modernist chefs and the science-inspired cooking techniques they have pioneered.

Myhrvold is the principal author of a culinary text entitled Modernist Cuisine, released in March 2011, on the application of scientific research principles and new techniques and technology to cooking.

Myhrvold competed on a team that won first place in several categories at the 1991 World Championship of Barbecue, including first prize in the special pasta category for a recipe that Myhrvold developed on the day of the contest.

He also appeared as a guest judge on Top Chef.


On December 20, 2009, Myhrvold appeared on CNN's Fareed Zakaria GPS and discussed his patented idea to eliminate global warming/climate change using geoengineering. It involves using hoses suspended from helium balloons 25 kilometers (16 mi) above the Earth. The hoses would be placed near the North Pole and the South Pole and emit sulfur dioxide, which is known to scatter light. Myhrvold estimated that such a configuration could "easily dim the sun by one percent, and even do it in a way that wouldn't be visible."

Affiliations and Awards

Myhrvold is also a member of the USA Science and Engineering Festival's Advisory Board. In 2010, he was named by Foreign Policy magazine to its list of top 100 global thinkers.


1. Modernist Cuisine at Home. Nathan Myhrvold (Author), Maxime Bilet (Author). The Cooking Lab; Spi Har/Pa edition (October 8, 2012). ISBN-10: 0982761015

2. Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking. Nathan Myhrvold (Author), Chris Young (Author), Maxime Bilet (Author). The Cooking Lab; Spi Har/Pa edition (March 7, 2011). ISBN-10: 0982761007

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