Ashok Gadgil: Humanitarian inventor

Berkeley Engineering 150Ashok Gadgil is a man of many interests. While earning his doctorate in physics at Berkeley in 1979, he focused primarily on general relativity. But over the course of his career, Gadgil’s pursuits expanded to include applied math, computational fluid dynamics, mechanical engineering, and economic and policy research on energy efficiency in developing countries.

Asjok Gadgil with two cookstovesAshok Gadgil with the Haitian and Darfur variants of his fuel-efficient cookstove at Berkeley Lab's stove testing facility. (Photo by Roy Kaltschmidt/LBL)Today he’s applying his multi-faceted expertise to improving the lives of millions in the developing world. He’s best known for creating the Berkeley-Darfur stove, a low-cost cookstove that uses less than half the fuel of traditional cooking methods. He also developed UV Waterworks, an inexpensive system for disinfecting water that has been distributed to millions of people around the world, saving more than 1,000 lives per year.

Currently, his team at the Gadgil Lab for Energy and Water Research is working to expand on his previous work and make inexpensive, fuel-efficient cookstoves available to the world’s poorest households. This involves adapting the Berkeley-Darfur design to meet the cultural and environmental needs of different global regions. So far, their efforts have reached communities in Darfur, Ethiopia, and Haiti.

And in the tradition of UV Waterworks, Gadgil’s lab is also focused on improving access to viable drinking water by conducting research into arsenic removal from groundwater, capacitive deionization to reduce the total dissolved solids in brackish water, and fluoride removal in groundwater.

“The things that really grab my attention and make me try to find solutions are those instances where there are large problems that cause a lot of human suffering, but those problems have potentially a technological solution,” Gadgil said in 2012 when he won the Lemelson-MIT Award for Global Innovation for the Darfur stove.

In addition to heading his lab on campus, Gadgil is a professor of civil and environmental engineering, and a scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Lab. He has won numerous awards for his inventions, including the Heinz Award for the Environment (2009), the Sustainability Pioneer Award from SAG/SAM of Zurich (2010), the European Inventor Award and the NCIIA Lifetime Award for teaching innovation (both 2011), the Zayed Future Energy Prize (2012) and the American Physical Society’s Leo Szilard Award (2015).  He was elected to the National Academy of Engineering in 2013, and inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2014.

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