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Ashok Gadgil

For more than twenty years, US engineer Ashok Gadgil’s work has focused on designing low-cost technologies that help the world’s poorest and most vulnerable. Based out of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratories, Gadgil seeks solutions that are simple, low-tech and implementable on a massive scale.

Gadgil’s lab 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 on a car battery or solar cell. Even so, it can disinfect approximately 4 gallons per minute. As of 2015, about five million people have benefited from this system and it is estimated to have saved more than one thousand lives per year.

In 2004, USAID asked Gadgil’s help in designing 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. To get from version one to fourteen, Gadhli’s team focused on what the refugees actually wanted and needed. For example, the stoves were modified for cost and simplicity so that they could 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 every five adults in Bangladash. ECAR uses small amounts of electricity for controlled release of a particular kind of 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 present.

Gadgil feels there is always more work to do—to improve his existing designs, and to make a difference for other serious problems.

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 Episode 35 | Big Problems, Simple Solutions here.