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Physicist Inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame Affects the Lives of Over 100 Million People

Erica Beck Spencer, FOSS Curriculum Specialist, Lawrence Hall of Science
September 29, 2015 | Science News

The home of FOSS, the Lawrence Hall of Science (the Hall), is perched atop the Berkeley hills looking down upon the University of California at Berkeley. Slightly farther than a stone's throw down the hill from us are brilliant scientists and engineers studying, researching, designing, and teaching at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Professor Ashok Gadgil is one such scientist, conducting work that will help millions living in extreme poverty and dangerous situations, such as in Darfur refugee camps. This award-winning scientist was recently inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame!

Approximately 100 million people on four continents have been helped by inventions that Prof. Gadgil has created to solve fundamental problems in developing countries. He has designed numerous products, but we will focus on his system to provide access to clean drinking water and his energy efficient stoves.

UV WaterWorks Unit

UV Waterworks Unit. Factory Production Design in 2000. 28"l x 15"w x 11" h. Weight is 15 pounds.

The water-disinfecting device Professor Gadgil designed is capable of providing safe drinking water for 2,000 people at a rate of four gallons per minute. The UV Waterworks system uses 60 watts of electricity to kill disease-causing pathogens with UV light, and can be powered with a car battery or a solar panel. The device is slightly smaller than a FOSS box and weighs approximately 15 pounds. The cost of producing a thousand gallons of clean water? About five cents! This outlet-free device can be used in disaster areas where both electricity and water are scarce.

In the FOSS Motion, Force, and Models Science Resources book, Third Edition, we feature Prof. Gadgil's easy to assemble, energy-efficient, lightweight, durable, and stable stoves that are used in refugee camps such as those found in Western Sudan. Before development he spoke with female refugees to determine their needs. Women were spending hours walking miles outside of the safety of the camp to find firewood for their inefficient three-stone cooking fires. The stove Gadgil designed requires one-half the amount of wood as their traditional system and ultimately means women spend less time looking for wood and don't have to travel as far from the safety of the camps.

We asked Professor Gadgil if he had any advice for teachers. He suggested that teachers “reach out to real practicing young engineers and get them in front of students—so they can talk about what cool stuff they do, why they chose to do engineering, and what it is as a career.” He continued, “teachers should try to convey to the students that engineering is about thinking and understanding, planning, then designing, and then building stuff that works, that makes life easier, or makes life fun.”

Berkeley-Darfur Stove

Berkeley-Darfur Stove costs $20, saves $345/year in fuelwood costs, and lasts five years (making it worth $1,725 to the user). In addition, each Berkeley-Darfur Stove offsets approximately 2 tons of carbon dioxide per year.

We also asked him his thoughts on engineering in the K–12 Next Generation Science Standards. He responded, “It is terrific that there will be increased emphasis on engineering in the K–12 Next Gen Science Standards! Engineering and Science really do go together—good engineering tools enable advanced science (e.g., electron microscopes), and vice versa. They are truly inseparable.”

We also have a FOSS Science Resources article about a female engineer who works alongside Professor Gadgil. Dr. Susan Amrose. Dr Amrose is an environmental engineer who has worked with communities in Bangladesh where most of the groundwater in wells is poisoned with naturally occurring arsenic. She has worked with a team of engineers to design an inexpensive way to remove the poison. The full article about her and other engineers designing things related to water can be found in the FOSS Next Generation Edition Water and Climate Science Resources book.

FOSS believes strongly in sharing the work of inspirational inventors, engineers, scientists, and other humans doing good work to improve the world we all inhabit. Our hope is to open the eyes of students about the abundant possibilities and exciting career choices for their future. We, like Professor Gadgil, believe deeply in the potential energy of these young people and never know when or what will inspire them.

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