Inventor honored for bridging innovation and humanitarianism to help millions globally

May 2nd, 2012
The Lemelson-MIT Program today announced Dr. Ashok Gadgil as the recipient of the 2012 $100,000 Lemelson-MIT Award for Global Innovation in recognition of his steady pursuit to blend research, invention, and humanitarianism for broad social impact. Gadgil is a chair professor of Safe Water and Sanitation at the University of California, Berkeley, and director of the Environmental Energy Technologies Division at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, whose diverse inventions and sustainable innovations are helping those in the developing world to live healthier, safer lives.

Gadgil is a physicist by training whose unwavering curiosity and commitment to employ his expertise to benefit humankind has led to a string of inventions and innovations from safe drinking water solutions and a utility-sponsored energy efficiency program, to fuel-efficient stoves for displaced persons in Africa. He also works with stakeholders in beneficiary communities to rally support and increase adoption of his inventions. His innovative solutions, which integrate science with cultural needs, have helped an estimated 100 million individuals in dozens of countries across four continents.

UV Waterworks for Safe Drinking Water

Gadgil envisioned an affordable solution to disinfect drinking water in 1993 after more than 10,000 people in his home country of India died from Bengal Cholera. Gadgil designed UV Waterworks, an effective and inexpensive technology that utilizes ultraviolet light to kill deadly, disease-causing pathogens. The technology has been disseminated by WaterHealth International, Inc. (WHI) and is producing safe, clean drinking water at a price of just two cents per 10 liters. WHI's water is affordable even to those making much less than two dollars per day.

WHI distributes the water through a pioneering public-private partnership, including a series of village-council owned clean-water centers that are built, operated and maintained by WHI. The village councils provide access to land and raw water. Maintenance, clean water education, quality control and optional home delivery are all funded through the sale of the water. The UV Waterworks technology and WHI have provided safe drinking water to approximately five million people in Ghana, India, Liberia, Nigeria and the Philippines to date, among many other countries, with plans for expansion to Bangladesh.

Berkeley-Darfur Stove to Increase Fuel Efficiency

In 2005 Gadgil approached an entirely different threat to survival – one in Darfur, a region of Western Sudan in a state of humanitarian emergency since 2003. The Berkeley-Darfur Stove, developed in partnership with nonprofit Potential Energy (formerly The Darfur Stoves Project) was born out of a request by the United States Agency for International Development's (USAID) Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance, to reduce the fuel demand of those in Darfur displacement camps. Eighty percent of these displaced individuals are female who often walk for up to seven hours, three to five times per week in search of firewood, making them vulnerable to assault each time they leave camp. Gadgil, his colleagues and students, and the women of Darfur designed the stove after several trips to the region.

First produced in partnership with CHF International and later Oxfam America, the Berkeley-Darfur Stove is assembled in North Darfur by trained benefactors. Women and girls - the primary beneficiaries - are invited to demonstrations by those currently using the stoves to learn how to use the device safely and efficiently. The stove sustainably increases the disposable income of the household by saving 55 percent of the fuel compared to traditional stoves, and saves more than three-hundred dollars per year. As of late 2011, more than 20,000 stoves have been disseminated, helping keep more than 125,000 women and their dependents safe. The stoves are now being modified for use in Ethiopia where 80 percent of households use firewood for cooking, yet the forest cover has decreased from 50 percent in 1950 to five percent in 2005.

"Ashok Gadgil's long record of inventive solutions to problems in the developing world is an example of how passion coupled with creative problem solving can have a colossal impact," states Joshua Schuler, executive director of the Lemelson-MIT Program. "Dr. Gadgil truly encompasses what it means to be a global innovator."

Inspiring Youth to Make an Impact on Mankind

Equally important to making a global impact for Gadgil is inspiring the next generation to innovate for social change. As a professor, Gadgil helps his students identify and pioneer solutions to important societal problems to ensure their research has maximum impact on the world. In Gadgil's courses, students gain hands-on experience innovating solutions to improve the sustainability of resource-constrained communities, with the ultimate goal being real-world dissemination of the products and processes developed.

"Ashok is a teacher and mentor who has awakened and excited young, perceptive minds to the possibilities of using science to alleviate suffering and human impact on the environment," said Richard Corsi, Gadgil's colleague and a professor at the University of Texas at Austin. "His substantial efforts to benefit those less fortunate inspire everyone around him to want to do more for mankind."

Provided by Lemelson-MIT Program

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