Ashok Gadgil, director of the Environmental Energy Technologies Division at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and a professor at U.C. Berkeley, was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in a special ceremony held May 21 at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in Alexandria, Virginia.
Gadgil was recognized for his unique water disinfecting system, which uses ultraviolet light from a battery or solar power to kill disease-causing pathogens, resulting in purified water that is safe for human consumption. In the tabletop system developed by the Indian American inventor, unprocessed water flows into a shallow tray under a mercury plasma lamp. Four gallons of water can be cleaned in about a minute.
Gadgil’s technology, called UVWaterworks, can provide a day’s worth of drinking water to 2,000 people for one kilowatt per day for about five cents a ton, making it affordable to people at the bottom of the pyramid who earn less than a dollar a day.
The Smithsonian Institute, which displayed Gadgil’s invention in 1998, wrote: “Every hour, more than four hundred children in the developing world die from water-borne diseases. Now there is hope that many children's lives will be saved and the health of other children improved with the introduction of an innovative water disinfection device developed by Dr. Ashok Gadgil.”
“It is also an outstanding example of an invention created in response to an urgent environmental health problem by a concerned and dedicated scientist,” wrote the Smithsonian.
About two million people around the globe die each year of water-borne diseases such as dysentery.
The U.C. Berkeley professor of civil and environmental engineering said he was drawn to the problem of unsanitary water by the Bengal cholera epidemic of 1993 which killed thousands of people. Most Indians lacked the resources to boil water to guarantee some measure of safety against the deadly disease. A vaccine proved to be ineffective. Gadgil quickly got to work and showcased UVWaterworks in 1996.
“I said to myself, ‘I’m in an amazing place like Berkeley with so much knowledge about science at our fingertips,’” Gadgil recently told The Daily Californian, U.C. Berkeley’s campus newspaper. “We should be able to figure out a way to address this that’s affordable and highly effective.”
Gadgil’s system was bought out in 1996 by Water Health International, which is being used in 10 countries around the world, including India. WHI currently uses field installations, known as Water Health Centers, in which villagers bring in their contaminated water for purification. In India, the process costs about two cents for 10 liters.
UVWaterworks was also used to mitigate the impact of the 2004 tsunami, which killed over 230,000 people. WHI has continued to provide fresh water supplies to survivors in Sri Lanka.
A prolific inventor, Gadgil was also recognized for the “Berkeley-Darfur” cook stove, which was created in response to the millions of displaced people in temporary shelters in Darfur, who needed to cook but had little to access to wood and other fuels.
The development of the fuel-efficient stove began in 2005, when Gadgil received a request from USAID to reduce the fuel demand of women in Darfur displacement camps.
Women in such camps — as in rural India — 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.
The stove is assembled in North Darfur and trainers teach women how to use the stove, which cuts out about more than half of their need for fuel. The stoves, which are commonly used inside in unventilated facilities, also cut down the family’s exposure to acrid smoke.
More recently, the inventor has released “Electrochemical Arsenic Remediation,” a method used to remove arsenic from water. Exposure to arsenic is most prevalent in West Bengal and Bangladesh.
“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,” stated Joshua Schuler, executive director of the Lemelson-MIT Program. “Dr. Gadgil truly encompasses what it means to be a global innovator.”
Gadgil was the winner of the Lemelson-MIT Award for Global Innovation, and received a prize of $100,000.