Hello and greetings from Panama!


I’m an OSU mechanical engineering grad student in the HEST program currently serving as a Peace Corps volunteer in Coclé, Panama. My work here in Panama is to design and build the distribution system of a buried, gravity-fed aqueduct system that will bring clean water to the 30 homes that make up the rural community in which I currently live. Coclé rests in the foothills of Panama’s largest mountain range, the Cordillera Central, which necessitates the 15-kilometer-long water system to cover several sharp altitude variations and their resulting pressure differentials.

I learned in my classes at OSU and my training as a Peace Corps volunteer that sustainable development happens best when we truly understand the needs and wants of the communities in which we serve, but, before coming to Panama, I could have never imagined what that really means. Now, after spending almost two years in site, I’m just now beginning to understand—sustainable development is a give-and-take, trading your own views as a designer and engineer for those of the beneficiaries of the project and constantly pressing up against that line between what you personally think will work best from an engineer’s standpoint and what the community knows will work best from their experience in site to create something that truly fits the needs of the community in a practical and sustainable way.

Before moving to Coclé, or even thinking about beginning the technical work required to design and build the water system here, I spent two months in the capital training in Spanish, Panamanian culture and history, common water systems in Panama, and common issues in Panama specifically for water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) project. Then, after moving to Coclé, I spent my first three months living with a host family and integrating into the community: walking to distant houses to introduce myself and learn the jungle paths, attending community meetings, helping the moms cook lunch at the school, learning regional words and improving my Spanish by constant use, and taking part in everyday life here. While difficult and time consuming, I believe these five months of preparation were what gave me the understanding of the community and credit with community members that led to the success of the project.

In my everyday life, I work with a water committee composed of six community members elected to serve as the leadership for the water project. We make decisions such as where the main waterlines should go, when to schedule workdays to bury the lines and preform maintenance, when and what type  of fundraisers we should coordinate, and to plan meetings with the full community, especially when we want more input or commitment on a particular decision. The water committee also schedules “cuadrillas” or groups of four community repairmen that serve for a month each, providing constant maintenance and urgent repairs. Since the community has had so much influence and leadership throughout the design and implementation stages of the project, now that we are finishing the build, I feel confident they will continue improving and maintaining the system long after I complete my Peace Corps service and return back to OSU.

While I believe the Peace Corps model of sustainable development works, I’ve also found it immensely challenging. On a personal level, I’ve found it challenging to live in a rural community without electricity, reliable cell signal or really any infrastructure outside of the new water project, a two-room schoolhouse, a small chapel, a small store that mainly sells beans and rice, and the dirt-and-mud road that connects it by a 3-hour hike to the closest paved road and an hour drive to the closest major town. I love my community and treasure the work we’re doing here, but I still cannot help questioning my decision (in some small way) every time I find a tarantula or scorpion in my house or get a fever and need to hike out to the hospital or just really crave pizza or ice cream or anything that requires a refrigerator or oven to make. Yet, this also is the give-and-take required for sustainable development, a very personal give-and-take: giving up a little bit of your personal comforts and desires  to help meet the needs and desires of so many others, all the time learning more about yourself and becoming a stronger person. All 30 houses in my community are going to be connected to clean drinking water for the first time because of my service here and others who have served before me, but, more than that, these houses are going to stay connected because the project included community members from design to implementation to maintenance and empowered the community to oversee their own project. I’m still learning how all of this works, but this is what I’d call sustainable development.

For pictures of the project and life in panama, feel free to check out my Instagram @mfi2ndinda as well as the Peace Corps Panama official page @peacecorpspanama on Facebook and Instagram.


All the best,


Julia Thurber

OSU HEST Class of 2020

On Saturday, January 19, 2019, graduate students and Dr. MacCarty from the OSU Humanitarian Engineering Lab volunteered at Benton County’s “Produce for the People” as part of the Martin Luther King Day of Service. An annual event that honors the legacy of Dr. King, the MLK Day of Service offers a wide variety of service opportunities for students, faculty, and Corvallis residents, with the mission of building community. One such service opportunity was gardening with Produce for the People, a non-profit organization that started through a partnership with OSU and funded by the National Institute of Health. What began as a short term research project investigating the impact of community gardens on the health of low-income Latinx residents developed into a 13,5000 sq. ft. garden that produced over 4000 lbs of produce in 2017. In addition to providing garden plots for individuals, Produce for the People donates food to local agencies including the South Corvallis Food Bank, Community Outreach, and soup kitchens. For the day of service, Humanitarian Engineering volunteers from the  got their hands dirty cleaning the fields for tilling and weeding, while other volunteers cleaned plant pots for reuse and carried mulch for planting. Produce for the People operates year round, and are seeking volunteers of any age and gardening ability. Times for volunteer work parties are listed on their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/pftpgarden/.

Yesterday was not only a celebrated American holiday, but also a day to recognize menstrual health around the world. Menstrual Hygiene Day is an important chance to talk about what’s been done and what we can continue to do to empower people with menstrual hygiene awareness. One area where we can continue the discussion is related to girls in school; the Human Rights Watch estimated that in 2016, one in ten girls in Africa missed school during their period. What can be done to take on this barrier to education? The first step is clearly providing basic sanitation in schools, but really it’s beyond just providing the basics of a toilet. Girls need to have a safe space where they feel comfortable enough to manage their period and menstrual waste in a healthy, hygienic way. So at our school in Southern Tanzania, we collaborated on a project to do just this: to provide the female students with both an adequate number of toilet stalls and the facilities and resources they would need to be able to manage their periods while at school every month. We built a new bathroom with six private stalls to finally meet the WHO recommendation of no more than 25 girls per one toilet stall, and ensured that each stall included a running water for cleaning. Then we were faced with the challenge of how to accommodate all of the menstrual waste materials that female students used? The current solution was for one of the stalls to be a pit latrine (rather than piped to the septic tank) and girls were told to only dispose of materials there. But in reality it was more common for girls to flush the materials down whichever stall they were using if the pit latrine was not available. This resulted in pipes clogging and the toilet facilities being spread even more thin. So after discussing solutions that had seen success in Tanzania before, we decided to build integrated furnaces into the new bathroom and also the existing bathroom building. This would allow for girls to toss their waste down a shoot without having to exit the bathroom, and then the waste could periodically be burned to hygienically dispose of the materials, and this system would increase the functionality of all of the toilets by preventing clogging. This solution is still in its early stages of use so we’ll have to continue to learn how it is being used, and how the girls feel about using it. But as we celebrate Menstrual Hygiene Day, its important to talk about what work can be done to break down one barrier to female education, and to continue to empower girls through menstrual hygiene education.


For most of us, wood smoke is something we experience every once in a while from campfires, a fireplace burning nearby, and so on. We know what it feels like to get smoke in our eyes; to accidentally breathe some in, but probably just for a few moments. However, in many parts of the world, smoke plays a very different role in people’s everyday lives. More than a third of the world uses wood and charcoal fires to heat and cook – often indoors with smoky, traditional open fires and stoves.

During a three-week field trial for a cookstove usability evaluation, I found out first-hand what cooking is like for families in rural Uganda. As a student working toward a dual Master’s degree in mechanical engineering and anthropology, I traveled there to work with our colleagues at International Lifeline Fund to test a protocol I had developed to measure how effectively and efficiently a stove meets people’s needs. This work allowed me to combine engineering and social science research, and spend hours at a time in thatch-roofed huts talking to women about their stoves designs and cooking habits while they cooked. It also required me to experience the same level of smoke as these women and their families.

Traditional kitchens in this region are basically windowless, garden shed-sized rooms with indoor bonfires, so they tend to look and feel like a steam room after a few minutes of cooking (but filled with smoke, instead). The effects of this much smoke on those not accustomed to it, such as some Ugandan translators and myself, include increased complaining, coughing, and borderline uncontrollable weeping – as if we were cutting onions for hours on end. In addition to the literal sweat and tears dripping on my field notes, this experience drove home the significance of this work and these problems that I’d read about, but never quite been this close to.

According to the World Health Organization, this level of exposure on a regular basis is roughly equivalent to smoking two packs of cigarettes a day , and indoor air pollution causes more premature deaths than dirty water or all infectious diseases , . Hundreds, if not thousands of improved cookstove designs have been tried around the world in attempts to reduce smoke exposure, among other issues, yet many of them have never caught on, in no small part because these stoves do not always meet cooks’ needs. Engineers working on these issues don’t often have the opportunity to collaborate with social scientists and other experts, so they tend to produce stoves that burn cleanly and efficiently, but sometimes at the expense of the ease-of-use, practicality, and ability to cook staple foods offered by traditional cooking methods. As a result, many improved stoves predictably go unused or unsold and never have the impact intended.

The test results and field notes from this trip (which still smell like smoke) are now helping us to improve this usability evaluation protocol. We will hopefully be able to make it into a practical tool for engineers and others to better balance design criteria, ultimately enabling production of more stoves that are clean and effectively, efficiently meet cooks’ needs. The use of social science research methods was new to me, as an engineer, and helped me to understand many details about cooks’ lives and attitudes beyond usability that could not have been revealed without these in-depth interviews and surveys. I am currently working to have the protocol incorporated into the global ISO standard for cookstove design and evaluation. Next year, I hope to bring this usability evaluation to another part of the world to test the protocol in another culture and on different types of stoves.

Visitors from Ssembabule District in Uganda demonstrate the technology they created to crush charcoal after completing a CCB workshop. The resulting charcoal dust is then combined with a binder such as cassava, and used to make briquettes.

Creative Capacity Building at Kulika, Uganda

I am struck by the sight of everyone working, or “making” as it’s often called now. They are building with wood, metal, natural materials, and other random items thatthe project teams picked up in town yesterday.  What I see is that making is the place of everyone here, regardless of gender or age. I am immersed in a community-level design training model called Creative Capacity Building (CCB), developed largely by Amy Smith of MIT’s D-Lab and led here by her and Bernard Kiwia.

CCB is typically a 5-day hands-on workshop where participants learn the basic stages of the design cycle. They then put it into practice as they work in teams to go through at least one round of the design cycle and prototype a technology by the end of the 5 days.  There are several hands-on sessions where we build a maize sheller (exactly what it sounds like) and a charcoal press that can be used to form briquettes from charcoal dust; these activities are designed to teach a set of basic skills in wood working, metal working, and the use of various hand tools while also giving participants a useful technology to take home.

Training of Trainers

Generally, CCB training is offered by trainer(s) at a very local level as a mechanism for spurring and supporting local innovation. I’m using local to describe village- or community-scale. This particular CCB is unique in that it is a training of trainers (ToT). Most of us are not only acting as participants, meaning we work in teams and design and build prototypes, but we are also here with the intention of improving our facilitation abilities. As such, we have a program of group reflection and practice teaching that’s going on around the edges of the CCB. Our ToT is held at Kulika Uganda’s training center outside of Wakiso, Uganda. Most of these current or prospective trainers are individuals who are currently facilitating trainings elsewhere, hope to be a trainer/co-trainer in the future, or want to be otherwise involved with CCB activities. This week, the majority of current or prospective trainers are from Uganda because that’s where we are, but we also have people from several other African countries, several Central and South American countries, one Greek and a few from the U.S.

Equity, Diversity and Inclusion in Creative Capacity Building

Over the last few years, I have been intentionally studying equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI). I aspire to improve equity, diversity and inclusion at various levels within my own university which includes my day-to-day work environment. I’ve gained much more awareness of how interpersonal conversations, group dynamics, leadership, and policies can serve to either increase or decrease inclusivity.  What I see at this Creative Capacity Building (CCB) Training of Trainers is in fact a striking model of inclusion. The visceral sense of everyone working and everyone being equally valued regardless of race, gender, status, and level of education, is not unique to CCB; I have also seen it and lived it at longer hands-on design summits that, like CCB, are also associated with MIT’s D-Lab and the International Development Innovation Network (IDIN).

Usually, because a CCB training is such a local event, it would not have the diversity in nationalities that we have at this event, but it would have both women and men. In cultures where there are deeply rooted gender roles, women are not often encouraged to be on equal footing with the men as “makers”. But in a CCB training, full participation is simply expected from both genders. Preliminary studies of impact do show that CCB training can raise womens’ profiles as women take on greater leadership responsibilities or design and use technologies that reduce their labor, increase their income, or simply make life better

Creating First Prototypes

This week, we had about 10 community members who live nearby join our CCB training of trainers. Thus, our project teams had both trainers and local community members. Our teams produced prototypes of a solar dryer, a vegetable slicer, a sorghum thresher, a hands-free latrine cover, a passion fruit juicer and a few others. I confess to not believing what could be envisioned and built in just a few days; all the teams had a somewhat working prototype by the end of the five days. Most of our concepts went through an iteration or two, and we even had a chance to get feedback from the type of person who might use our technologies through both internal and external showcases with our project prototypes.

Impact of Creative Capacity Building on Local Innovation

We learn by experience that the design process requires faith. Not religious faith, but rather faith that applying the design cycle to real-world problems will produce a solution or technology towards solving that problem. And faith that all individuals are capable of improving their lives through creativity and innovation. I’m very curious – what happens after a CCB training? Do people just walk away unchanged? Do they continue to innovate and build devices or technologies? I’m sure many do walk away, but this week we witnessed groups coming from all over Uganda to demonstrate and celebrate the technologies they created and iterated post-CCB. When I was looking over my pictures, the one commonality I saw during presentations from these visiting groups was a sense of pride.

I know that many of the people at our training of trainers (including the innovators that joined us from both near and far) have not had it easy. Design, or the use of design, can’t solve everything. But my takeaway from this week is that design and the use of it for local innovation is in fact having a very real impact on people’s lives. Many of us walk away with a personal challenge of how to use what they learned, including me. Now it’s our turn to accept and act on these intentions.

(Entry also posted on IDIN blog here).


My research in humanitarian engineering took me to Honduras this past April to field test a sensor system that monitors the impact and adoption rates of improved cookstoves. The sensor, called the Fuel, Usage and Emissions Logger (FUEL), measures household fuel and cookstove usage. It was the first test in a real-world setting, to ensure that the sensor functioned both in the elements (rain, humidity, etc) and that it would be accepted by households, as it requires a change in habit.

On my third day in Honduras, in a village of 23 households called El Eden, I went with a family to collect firewood. This particular family collects wood on a daily basis, although it’s common for families to go 2-3 times per week. The couple, an older man about 70 years old and his wife, had waited for me to arrive before they left. By that time it had reached mid-day and was close to 100 degrees. Normally they would go much earlier in the day when it was cooler.

I left with the man and a woman from another house. As we began our steep descent through tidy rows of coffee plants, two other women joined the group, both carrying bags to hold wood and machetes to cut it. I wore jeans and running sneakers, the women from El Eden wore skirts and rubber flip flops. After about 20 minutes of walking (a shorter trip than usual), we reached a clearing in the woods, and everyone used a machete to swing at thick branches on fallen trees. My translator and I had no machetes, so we tried to collect wood by hand but were mostly useless.

After each person had collected a large enough pile to fill a sack about 3 feet long by 2 feet wide, we sat in the shade. One of the women had dug up an edible plant, Santa Maria, to bring back for her garden. We ate some of that and talked for a while as I fumbled with my flimsy Spanish.

When it was time to return to the village, I offered to carry one of the women’s bags, wondering if I could even make it back the whole way. She complied, but didn’t seem to think that I could either! The women tied up the bags with rope or a shirt, and hoisted them up onto their heads. That seemed difficult to me so I tried the Santa Claus approach and slung the bag over my back. I then decided they were probably holding it over their heads for a reason, and eventually followed suit. I could barely balance the bag on my head, and could feel the weight compressing my neck and back. I trudged behind the others, arms aching but determined to make it to the top. After a decent amount of sweating and pain, I could finally see the corrugated metal rooftops that indicated that we were almost there. Reaching the houses, I was so tall that I kept banging into rooftops with the bag of wood, almost taking off a roof or two. I decided then to leave it to the people who knew better.

I was thrown into the reality of their lives- it had been easy to visit households and observe the peaceful-seeming cadence of life, but actively participating in firewood collection exposed me to the drastically less idyllic but essential tasks that people do to survive. It seemed to me, and makes sense, that people accept these tasks as a fact of life, but that does not mean that it isn’t still challenging. As one example, people in El Eden may have developed stronger muscles for carrying large loads (compared to me), but firewood collection can still cause hernias. Better understanding how households perceive these tasks will come with more time spent in the field, talking to and being with people to really understand how they view their lives and where the most pressing challenges lie.

It wasn’t until we were halfway back up the hill, sweating under the relentless sun, that I realized that this trip occurred during the hottest point in the day only because they had postponed collection to wait for me to arrive.  This is one of the trade-offs and privileges of having the positionality of a researcher that I have learned about in Anthropologic Research Design, and began to identify for myself, something I hope to mitigate in my future research. It seems like power dynamics have to be carefully navigated and leveled, and unintended consequences of research agendas need to be continually considered to minimize invasiveness, especially when it involves human life. I hope to continue to improve upon this through my past and future experiences as a researcher so I can begin to recognize and identify where these inequalities lie and avoid perpetuating them as we work together to identify and solve challenges.


In the Biological and Ecological Engineering Department, graduate students have the opportunity to participate in the Trans-African Hydro-Meteorological Observatory (TAHMO) with Professor John Selker. The project was started in the 90’s when Dr. Selker was in Ghana but the data just didn’t exist. TAHMO’s goal is to install weather stations to countries across Africa, providing weather data needed for research, weather predictions, crop monitoring, and extreme hazard warnings. This automatic weather station is powered by a small solar panel and measures wind speed, temperature, rain, pressure, GPS location, solar radiation, and lightning detection. Students advised under Dr. Selker work in station placement, quality control, and educational outreach with TAHMO.

In the winter of 2017, two students had the opportunity to travel to Benin to put their work into practice. The first student, Liz is a second year Water Resources Engineering Masters student. Liz is also the coordinator the School 2 School (S2S) project in TAHMO. The second student, Amelia, is a first year Masters student in Water Resources Engineering. Her research focuses on helping the TAHMO project develop a framework for choosing the best sites to install the weather stations.

Students in the Field- Liz

Most stations are hosted by schools across the region which allows schools access to the data collected. The intention is for teachers to use the real-time weather data from their station as applied science in their classroom.  Trainings are designed for science teachers come to learn about TAHMO and gain the skills and material to integrate the weather data into the curriculum. The first training was in the winter of 2016 in Kenya and was very successful. The second training was held in Benin at the SOS Village Orphanage in coordination with GLOBE program. Below is a picture of Liz hanging out with young students at the SOS Village Orphanage in Benin.

The first part of the training consisted of introductions of TAHMO and the S2S program. There were so many great questions about the weather station, including battery life, data transmission, data quality control and standards, calibration requirements, etc. It was a pleasure for Liz to be working with such involved and passionate teachers. 26 Teachers from all over Benin attended the 3-day training.

The second portion of the training included three group exercises focusing on using weather data in their classroom. The first exercise was drawing the weather station and labeling the sensors and describing corresponding measurements. The next activity explored the scientific process by explaining the relationship between two meteorological variables. The third activity was to build a cup style wind anemometers to measure the wind speed outside.  This is one of Liz’s favorite activities because it involves building a weather instrument, taking measurements, calculations, comparison to the TAHMO station measurement, and a great discussion about sources of error. The winning team whose cup style anemometer was most accurate when compared to the weather station reading won OSU caps.

Training evaluations done at the end of the course were extremely useful. First, they identified the part that teachers most valued were the lesson plans. Also, they noted that teachers wanted to go back to their schools and engage other teachers who were not able to attend this training. In response, Liz put together a teacher training “packet” for when stations are installed into schools. The welcome packet includes instructions for accessing the data on the S2S website, a list of required maintenance, examples for in-classroom exercises using the data, and a FAQ sheet. Liz hopes that this material will help teachers be successful at incorporating TAHMO data into their lesson plans. Ultimately she wants  the students to benefit from doing science that is applicable and local.

Students in the Field- Amelia

The following month after Liz’s return, Amelia traveled to West Africa to visit Benin, Togo, and Ghana. TAHMO is currently working in all three countries, but each is in a different stage of the station installation process. Amelia was able to follow up on some of the work initiated by Liz with the schools. Amelia traveled to 16 schools in Benin and met with teachers and administrators. At each school she gave them more information about TAHMO and to distribute the welcome pack created by Liz. She showed these schools how they can view and download the data online and how to access lesson plans.

Amelia’s research focuses on helping the TAHMO project develop a framework for choosing the best sites to install the weather stations. Sites are chosen so they represent the true weather, while taking into consideration social and political considerations. For example, agricultural areas may have a greater need for good precipitation data to plan their crops, and fishing areas may need advanced warning when storms are coming in so that fisherman can return to land and safety. Amelia seeks to find a balance between the sometimes competing objectives of collecting the best weather data overall and collecting it where it is most needed.

The main objective of Amelia’s visit was to develop a better understanding of the ground conditions where station installations are occurring so that she can incorporate local needs and constraints into the site selection process. Amelia worked closely with the meteorological agencies in these countries to understand their goals for the weather station network and reach a consensus of the selected station sites. She also documented the concerns of the school teachers and administrators about hosting these stations. Amelia and her team toured school campuses to discuss potential locations where we could install the weather stations and documented the common problems we had when searching for a suitable site. Her team was also able to complete 7 weather station installations during the visit, below are pictures from the  station installation at CEG Glazoué.

Amelia is writing a document detailing the information she learned during her visit about the social and political considerations relevant to weather station installation. She plans to compare a weather station network designed using traditional optimization methods to a network that incorporates social factors and evaluate the advantages and disadvantages of each.

How you can help!

A crowd-funding app has been created where every meter counts to improve weather data accuracy in Africa. Without these weather stations, there is no accurate weather information available in most places. Just download the free app on your phone, it even run in parallel with your other fitness trackers. A donation of $3 for every 5 km you run/walk and $5 is for every 30 km you bike will be donated to TAHMO!

Download the app here for Itunes and here for Andriod and bring accurate weather in Africa closer with each step.

For more information about TAHMO click here or watch our video here.


Over winter break 2017, two undergraduate students, three graduate students, a professor, and some cookstove experts gathered to perform testing on a new cookstove-powered pasteurization system to see if it could effectively disinfect drinking water contaminated with e.coli and other disease-causing organisms. Today 1 in 10 people do not have access to clean drinking water and three billion people around the world still use traditional methods such as open biomass campfires to cook food or boil their water to purify it. This creates many problems for the user: health issues from inhaling the smoke, a high cost of using so much wood, and a safety risk for women who must travel farther and farther out of the safety of their camps or homes to get wood for their fires. Many refugee camps have little high concentrations of people with little access to wood or other fuel for fire. The extreme nature of the camp population puts stress on an area’s systems which are pushed to provide food and water. Boiling water for this dense population requires a great deal of time and human effort. Emissions from the process of cooking and cleaning water and deforestation are also harming the environment; in turn, the food sources are put at risk.

To solve these issues, the nonprofit InStove (the designer of the Institutional Rocket Stove verified by USAID to be the most advanced in its category in the world) created a cookstove and pasteurization system that reduced the amount of wood needed by 97%, directs the smoke away from the user through a chimney, and would, hopefully, be able to pasteurize water. Pasteurization heats water to a lower temperature (71°C) rather than boiling (100°C) and is therefore more efficient. The pasteurization system could produce 6,000 liters of clean drinking water a day if proven to effectively clean water.

Mechanical engineering students and faculty from Oregon State University conducted tests with advisors from InStove to see if these cook stoves could be used not only for cooking in low resource environments, but also to effectively and efficiently clean water. In these tests, a large amount of water was inoculated with E.coli, pumped into the stove, heated, and was then extracted into a clean container. The water was tested throughout the process to see how much E.coli was present.

Water was pumped up to this container and down to the stove

The stove

The container the stove dispensed the water into (blue)

E.coli concentrations before and after pasteurization

Three tests were conducted and they were all successful; the water started with a high concentration of E. coil and exited the stove with no E. coli present. With this information, the InStove can now go through the process of implementing these stoves around the world in places that need high quantities of clean drinking water such as refugee camps, schools, or hospitals. With only a pencil weight of fuel wood used to generate a liter of potable water, there is no other solid fuel water pasteurization system like this in the world today. It was great to be a part of this discovery and innovation in water pasteurization technology that can allow people around the world get clean water with more ease.

Since the April 2015 Gorkha Earthquake, the densely populated city of Kathmandu, Nepal has been in a state of repair. The Kathmandu Valley has many unreinforced masonry structures, many of which were severely damaged during the Gorkha Earthquake. Nepalese engineers are actively seeking practical solutions to improve Nepal’s seismic resilience. With funding provided by USAID and the Evans Fellowship, Professor Ben Mason and graduate student Rachel Adams were able to attend several trips to Nepal. Dr. Mason visited Kathmandu shortly after the Gorkha Earthquake for post-disaster reconnaissance. After his initial trips, Dr. Mason worked with a group from the U.S. to formulate workshops and training sessions focused around earthquake engineering. Rachel attended two trips in 2016 along with Dr. Mason and the team from the U.S. consisting of professors and members of the United States Geologic Survey (USGS).


During the one-year anniversary conference of the Gorkha Earthquake, experts from around the world came to Nepal to present their work since the earthquake.  At the conference, our group was able to learn what progress had been made in Nepal, and what the country still needed to recover and rebuild their infrastructure to better resist seismic events. We were also able to meet with Nepalese engineers and professors at Tribhuvan University to develop a comprehensive list of topics desired with a focus on earthquake engineering. By working with leaders of the National Society for Earthquake Technology in Nepal (NSET), we were able to organize a week long earthquake engineering workshop for Nepalese engineers that contained topics within structural engineering, geotechnical engineering, and seismology.


The earthquake engineering workshop was a very successful event that piqued the interest of Nepalese engineers. Following the completion of the workshop, more topics for subsequent workshops were requested and a collaborative relationship has been established for future work. The travel experience was also very valuable to the visitors from the U.S. The Nepalese have proved to be extraordinarily resilient following the Gorkha Earthquake. We can learn much from their efforts and spirit. The trip was also scientifically valuable as Nepal has many similarities in landscape and seismic hazard as the Pacific Northwest. We too are faced with an impending earthquake from a subduction zone fault boundary. We too live in a pronounced valley with extensive surrounding hillslopes prone to landslides. It has been a great opportunity to establish an international collaborative project which will help engineers develop creative solutions to face natural hazards.


We are very thankful for our colleague, Diwakar Khadka (Nepalese geotechnical engineer), for his perspective and time committed in showing our team sites of great importance around the Kathmandu Valley.


During their senior year at OSU, mechanical engineers, Brianna, Brian, and Grace, worked with TERREWODE, a Ugandan NGO and other partners in Oregon to enhance an income generating soap-making operation to benefit women in Uganda who suffer from obstetric fistula. Obstetric fistula is a horrific condition that can occur during childbirth and is preventable with maternal medical care and intervention services. TERREWODE is not only working to treat these women, but also give them skills to to generate income and empower them.
This project is especially exciting because the idea to make soap actually came from TERREWODE’s founder, Alice Emasu.  Joni Kabana, a photographer from Portland, Oregon, brought a gift of goat milk soap made near her home in Eastern Oregon to TERREWODE. The women receiving the gift were extremely excited and Alice had the idea that they could make this soap and use it as a way to make an income.
So how do OSU engineering students fit in to this project? Brianna, Brian, and Grace were asked to apply engineering design principles and methods to test and evaluate potential soap-making process improvements and determine scalability. Through the course of their senior year at OSU, the team made numerous batches of soap, employing various techniques and strategies to not only create the best output, but also the best process which would be easy to reproduce in rural Uganda.
One of the most interesting aspects of this project was designing for the people and culture where this process will be used. Although rural Uganda does have electricity it can be very inconsistent. The team made it a goal to find a way to make the process functional off-grid and built a prototype solar paneled system using resources available in the US.

The team set off for Uganda during the summer of 2016, days after their graduation ceremony at OSU.  They spent three weeks working with TERREWODE and the women they support. During their stay, the team researched soap-making ingredient sourcing, available solar solutions, process enhancements, and potential fragrances.

While the women at TERREWODE made over 200 bars of soap, the team observed and analyzed the process to provide engineering feedback. Some adjustments to the soap-making process included the change in batch size, creation of templates for cutting the bars evenly, and recommendations for cooling/storage racks.  As a final deliverable, the team provided TERREWODE with an extensive written report regarding all the process adjustments and recommendations, suggestions for scalability, and solar solution recommendations.
Overall, the team had an incredible experience in Uganda! They want to thank the many OSU faculty and donors for the amazing opportunity.

NOTE: No photos of the TERREWODE obstetric fistula survivors were posted to respect their privacy.