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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

During the faculty led research course to Guatemala, we spent several days in the stove factory owned outside of the city of Antigua, which is owned and operated by a local Guatemalan family.  Dr. MacCarty and several of the engineering students were completing stove testing of the new “Eco-plancha” model that the factory owner had developed.  I had the opportunity to help with and translate for the stove testers for two days while they were working to complete the Controlled Cooking Tests (CCT).  These tests utilize local cooks who are asked to cook the same meal on two types of stoves, in this case a basic three-stone open fire and the Eco-plancha model of interest.  After the meal is complete, the time spent, amount of firewood used, and weight of the food are recorded to allow comparison between the two stoves.  In addition to the technical measurements, we also interviewed the local cooks about their experiences and preferences.

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The Three Eco-plancha stoves with cooks completing CCTs

Six local cooks participated in the CCTs, so three at a time on the traditional open-fire and the plancha stoves.  One thing that was interesting to me talking to the cooks is that the experience seemed to help them better understand the benefits of the plancha stove because they had the opportunity to see side-by-side the experiences of cooking on each type of stove.  For example, the three cooks that were working on the plancha stoves finished there tests much quicker than those that were working on the open fires, and they joked and teased each other about how those that used the open fire smelled smoky and had to work harder on their fires.  While all the women had plenty of experience having used both open-fires and the plancha model to cook in their homes, they had never had the opportunity to make that direct comparison between the two stoves.  It seemed to surprise them to see how different the two methods of cooking performed, and how much less smoke was produced by the plancha.  It was nice to be able to share that experience with local women who are part of the target audience of improved cook stove projects and for them to get to be included in the process of understanding the stove benefits.

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One cook wore the backpack emissions monitor to compare smoke inhalation levels for the two stoves.

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Another cook worked under this portable emissions monitor

One of my favorite memories of Guatemala is of playing soccer with some of the kids from the second village we visited. It was raining, and the field was half mud, but we played a pick up game (organized with very rudimentary Spanish and hand gestures) with three little boys and our guide, Katie, who was 10. Despite the haggard conditions of their field and the ball, which was kicked one too many times down a steep ditch and into the woods, it was a great game. I can’t remember who won, but I do remember that we all had a good time playing soccer. It was also so exciting to see and interact with some of the people that these cookstoves and  interviews and research are all aiming to help. Their potential and enthusiasm to succeed is so great, and should be unencumbered by a lack of transportation to school, or having to wonder how they will one day feed and support a family. Hopefully, our research will help with that. The picture below is some of us trying to negotiate a soccer game.

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Welcome to the new blog for the Humanitarian Engineering Program at OSU. If you are a student, faculty, or otherwise interested person and would like to post an entry or comment, please email Professor Nordica MacCarty and she would be happy to add you as a user.