Appropriate Technology

A nice article on someone I have long admired. I do not want to get all ranty, but

I am from a very poor nation, and most people in my country survive with less than two dollars a day.

I also have been blessed enough to study at two Great institutions of learning in my country, PSHS and UP .

What studying in those institutions allowed me is to interact with a lot of people involved in Science, Technology and Engineering in my country.  What I is disheartening me a little is what I feel whenever I interact with a lot of them.

I don’t know what to call this but I’d christen it “If I Only Had” mentality. Many of my country’s STE people always think that they’d be able to do do (…. insert research etc) if “they only had” (…. insert state of the art equipment here). Its so frustrating hearing these people bemoaning the fact that they do not have the latest anything.

People need to remember that the constraints shape the outcome, but it cannot shape what is never started , what is never tried. I hear and see a lot of people acting like children trying to ask their parents for the newest toys and not doing what we used to do when I was a kid, either use my imagination to conjure castles and horses etc.

I wish they take the article below to heart.

PS: There are a lot of researchers who fall into the can do attitude group, I commend their efforts and wish them luck in their pursuits.

do read the whole thing ;

from here:

The Peruvian village of Compone lies 11,000 ft. above sea level in El Valle Sagrado de los Incas, the Sacred Valley of the Incas. Flat but ringed by mountains, the tallest capped year-round in snow and ice, the valley is graced with a mild climate and mineral-rich soil that for centuries has produced what the Incas called sara—corn.

The farmers of Compone feed corn to their livestock, grind it into meal, boil it for breakfast, lunch and dinner and stockpile it as insurance against future unknowns. They burn the corncobs, stripped of kernels, in the earthen stoves they use for cooking and to heat their homes.

It’s the stoves that worry Amy Smith. One morning, the 45-year-old inventor stands on the front lawn of the town’s community center, beside a 55-gal. drum packed with corncobs that is billowing smoke, a box of matches in her hand and dressed for comfort in faded jeans, avocado T-shirt and a baseball cap pulled over a thick curtain of dirty-blond hair. Smith is ringed by three dozen campesinos who make no move to dodge the lung-burning, eye-stinging cloud. If she just waited a few minutes, the embers would burst into flame on their own and the smoke would dissipate in the intense heat. Instead, she drops a match into the barrel, then jerks her hand back. Nothing happens.

Smith is trying to turn the cobs into charcoal. For an award-winning engineer from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, this would seem to be a humble goal. Wood charcoal has been in use for thousands of years. However, for many of the world’s poor, it can be a life-saving technology. Compone’s farmers are among the 800 million people worldwide who use raw biomass—agricultural waste, dung, straw—for fuel. Globally, smoke from indoor fires makes respiratory infections the leading cause of death for children under the age of 5, claiming more than a million young lives a year. Charcoal burns much more cleanly. “I don’t know how quickly we can change cooking habits here,” Smith says, “but I’d like to see people breathing less smoke inside their homes.”

A well-liked instructor at MIT and member of the Popular Mechanics editorial advisory board, Smith is a rising star in a field known as appropriate technology, which focuses on practical, usually small-scale designs to solve problems in the developing world. She has brought four undergrads to Compone, along with Jesse Austin-Breneman, an MIT graduate who works for a community organization in Peru, and one of her engineering collaborators, 53-year-old Gwyndaf Jones. To get here, the team has lugged bags of tools and low-tech gadgets, water-testing equipment and a heavy wooden crate bearing a pedal-powered grain mill more than 3500 miles in taxis, airplanes and buses.