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Ashok Gadgil

For over twenty years, US engineer Dr. Ashok Gadgil’s work has focused on designing low-cost technologies that help the world’s poorest and most vulnerable.

Dr. Gadgil is Faculty Senior Scientist and was Director of the Energy and Environmental Technologies Division at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. He is also Distinguished Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of California, Berkeley. He specializes in heat transfer, fluid dynamics, and technology design for development and has substantial experience in technical, economic, and policy research on energy efficiency and its implementation – particularly in developing countries. 

Gadgil is best known for three projects; the first was sparked by a 1993 cholera epidemic in South and Southeast Asia. “UV Waterworks” uses UV light from a low-pressure mercury discharge (similar to that in a fluorescent lamp) to disinfect drinking water. The system has no moving parts and can be run using even a car battery or solar cell to disinfect approximately 4 gallons per minute. As of 2015, five million people benefited from the system. It is estimated to save more than one thousand lives per year.

In 2004, USAID requested Gadgil’s help to design a better stove for refugees in Darfur. Now on its fourteenth iteration, the Berkeley-Darfur stove burns less than half the wood or charcoal of a traditional stone fireplace. Throughout the stove’s evolution, Gadgil’s team focused on what the refugees wanted and needed; for example, the stoves were modified for cost and simplicity to be manufactured locally. Today, more than forty thousand are in use throughout Africa.

The third project, ECAR (ElectroChemical Arsenic Removal) addresses the issue of arsenic contamination in groundwater—a problem that kills an estimated one out of five adults in Bangladesh. ECAR uses small amounts of electricity for the controlled release of a particular iron rust. The rust binds irreversibly with the arsenic and can be removed by settling, leaving the water safe to drink. The process is undertaken at room temperature and is highly effective, even with high levels of arsenic.

In addition to his work, Dr. Gadgil has authored or co-authored over 140 journal papers, and 120+ conference papers. He served as editor of the journal Annual Review of Environment and Resources since 2009 and was the founding editor of Open Access journal, “Development Engineering” published by Elsevier. 

We had an opportunity to speak with Ashok Gadgil about simple, low-cost solutions to global public health on our podcast, Social Design Insights. Listen to the episode below.

35 | Big Problems, Simple Solutions


Social Design Insights would like to thank all those who make our weekly show possible: Baruch Zeichner, our Producer and Sound Engineer, Donna Read, for producing our video content, and Leah Freidenrich, Director of the Curry Stone Foundation. Our theme music for 2017 is "Sorry" by Comfort Fit. The break music is "Within You Without You" by The Beatles from the album "Sgt. Peppers Lonely Heart's Club Band."