Lemelson-MIT Award For Global Innovation

Masters Class Taught By UC Berkeley Professor, Ashok Gadgil: June 21st 2012

“Technology Innovations for the poorest 2 Billion On The Planet”

Professor Gadgil spoke in front of a mixed audience in the Ray and Maria Stata Center this morning. Gadgil, a world-renowned inventor, professor, and scientist received the 2012 Lemelson-MIT Award for Global Innovation. This $100,000 award recognizes individuals whose technological innovations improve the lives of impoverished people in the developing world.

Gadgil has been involved with numerous projects and inventions throughout his career, but he chose to focus on his most recent: Electro-Chemical Arsenic Remediation (ECAR). Which is a technology designed to reduce the Arsenic levels of groundwater in undeveloped countries, by removing Arsenic at the molecular level through a chemical reaction that attaches the Arsenic particles to particles of Iron and then filtering them out as a compound.

Arsenic poisoning has been called “the largest mass poisoning in the history of mankind” by the World Health Organization, and is a serious problem throughout the globe, but especially in the developing world.

Gadgil used Bangladesh as his primary example for Arsenic poisoning. Estimates cited in Gadgil’s presentation pegged the number of people with some form of Arsenic poisoning in Bangladesh at somewhere around 70 million! Today, around 20% of the adult population in Bangladesh now dies from some sort of Arsenic-related cause.

As Professor Gadgil said earlier today, “ECAR is a high performance system that reliably and affordably removes Arsenic” The barriers to solving the Arsenic problem were both socio-economic, and technological. Gadgil and his team of interdisciplinary partners developed a sustainable and scalable solution for the vast complications that prevented systems like ECAR from taking hold in the past.

When asked to elaborate on some of the lessons he has learned from past failures, Gadgil offered three pieces of advice. First, never cut off the research component of new technological innovations. Second, real-world problems are complex; working with people who are great at what they do will give you greater chances for success (no one ever succeeds on their own). And lastly, always be extremely persistent, while making sure to learn from your past failures. As professor Gadgil put it; “fail smartly”.


By: Nathan Birnbaum: MIT IDEAS Global Challenge Intern

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