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Heinz Award Honors Berkeley Lab's Ashok Gadgil

Ashok Gadgil, a scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab), is one of 10 recipients being recognized for environmental achievements through the 15th annual Heinz Awards announced by the Heinz Family Foundation.

Gadgil is the deputy director of Berkeley Lab's Environmental Energy Technologies Division, as well as University of California (UC) Berkeley professor of civil and environmental engineering and faculty senior scientist at Berkeley Lab. He will receive $100,000 for the strides he has made toward a more sustainable, cleaner environment.

Photo of Ashok Gadgil

Heinz Award-winning scientist Ashok Gadgil with the Berkeley Darfur stove, a simple cook stove made of sheet metal or cast iron, designed to use less wood or alternative fuels such as animal dung.

"It is humbling for me to see what august company I am in, when I see the names of past Heinz Award winners," said Gadgil. "I also feel tremendously honored and pleased. This award brings attention to the often desperate needs of the poorest half of humanity whom technological research and innovation commonly leave in the dust."

The Heinz Awards were created in memory of U.S. Senator John Heinz, and have traditionally been given to individuals in the categories of arts and humanities; environment; human condition; public policy; and technology, the economy and employment. This year the awards focused on the environment, to commemorate the late senator's long-standing commitment to sustainability.

"These awards honor those guardians of our future who value our natural resources, work to remove toxic chemicals from our air and water, and create policies and the new technology that will ensure a sustainable planet for generations to come," said Teresa Heinz, widow of Senator Heinz and chairman of the Heinz Family Foundation, in a statement. "In highlighting the work of some of our country's most thoughtful, innovative, and creative individuals, we are pleased to shine a deserving spotlight on their extraordinary achievements."

Gadgil, 58, was recognized for his work as a researcher, inventor, and humanitarian. The foundation cited his efforts to understand airflow and pollutant transport in buildings (which helps to reduce health risks) and to improve energy efficiency and enhance the quality of life in developing countries. His knack for creating simple inventions to solve fundamental problems in developing countries was also highlighted.

Disinfecting Water in Developing Nations

In the 1990s, Gadgil led a team which developed an inexpensive and reliable water purification system using ultraviolet light, called UV Waterworks. He undertook the work originally in response to a cholera epidemic that struck India. However, an inexpensive, robust, and energy-efficient way to disinfect drinking water is urgently needed in many developing nations—the World Health Organization estimates that two million people, mostly children, die every year from preventable waterborne diseases. UV Waterworks was commercialized by WaterHealth International, a company Gadgil advises, and the technology is now an increasing presence in the developing world. UV Waterworks won a Discover magazine award and a Best of What's New award from Popular Science magazine.

Most recently, Gadgil has been working on ways to inexpensively remove arsenic from drinking water in Bangladesh using simple, inexpensive, and locally available materials such as ash from coal burning. Arsenic in drinking water occurs naturally in high concentrations in certain areas of the world, including Bangladesh, and is causing a slow mass poisoning of as much as 10 percent of that nation's population.

The Berkeley Darfur Stove

In 2005, as the strife in the Darfur region was capturing worldwide attention, Gadgil was asked by the U.S. Agency for International Development to help find a solution to reduce the exposure of women living in the Darfur refugee camps to violence. As the women were foraging outside the camps for wood to cook with, they were being attacked and raped. In response, Gadgil led the effort to develop a more fuel-efficient cook stove that significantly reduced the amount of firewood that refugees in that war-torn area needed to collect.

The Berkeley Darfur Stove is four times more efficient than the traditional three-stone fires used in the region, and two times more efficient than clay stoves. Women spend less time outside of the camps collecting fuel wood, reducing their risk of being raped. The stove's fully enclosed flames reduce the likelihood that the dense straw and stick shelters will catch fire, and the reduction of smoke from the stove (as compared to other stoves) decreases the amount of smoke inhaled, thereby reducing lung disease. A nongovernmental organization is now working to set up local manufacture and distribution of the stove. In 2007, the stove won the Popular Mechanics "Breakthrough" award.

Other Achievements

As a researcher conducting experimental and modeling research as part of the Airflow and Pollutant Transport Group, Gadgil has contributed to numerous studies to help reduce the health risks and improve the comfort of building occupants. This work has included finding ways to minimize the risks to occupants from toxic releases of chemical and biological agents within buildings.

He has also pioneered utility-sponsored compact fluorescent lamp leasing programs that are being successfully implemented by utilities in several east-European and developing countries.

In addition, Gadgil teaches a class at UC Berkeley called "Design for Sustainable Communities," which helps students imagine and design technological solutions to environmental problems.

Each recipient of the Heinz Award will receive a $100,000 unrestricted award along with a medallion on October 28, 2009, at a private ceremony in Washington, D.C.

— Allan Chen


For more information, see Ashok Gadgil's web page.

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