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Beyond the Infinite

Beyond the Infinite, Fall 2009
Issue 2, Volume 4

Invention for the Greater Good
Public Service in Young Adult Development
Reflections from the PSC Leadership Council
Int’l Design Workshop
Leadership Council Member
Infinite Opportunities


Invention for the Greater Good

Now in its ninth year, the MIT IDEAS Competition has inspired innovation and entrepreneurship with the goal of improving the quality of life for people all over the world.

Coming face to face with global issues, diverse cultures, complicated situations, and changing conditions would, to most students, be something reserved for life after college. For IDEAS Competition team members, however, challenges like finding a seamstress to manufacture an insulating garment, moving batteries and chargers from China to Tanzania, and filing for a non-provisional patent are immediate aspects their lives.

Happily, the support of an MIT professor is often close at hand. For the Kanchan™ Arsenic Filter, Senior Lecturer Susan Murcott ’90, SM ’92, championed the technology that she helped develop. Professor Alex Slocum ’82, SM ’83, PhD 85 is guiding the research on Robopsy.

The IDEAS Competition is intentionally challenging so teams have “to pull together and really focus on [their] vision. Seeing what all the other teams are doing is a great reminder of the amazing and encouraging ecosystem of socially-focused projects at MIT,” said Joseph Bamber SM ’08 of Assured Labor, a 2008 IDEAS team. Whatever route students take, the Competition provides an environment rich in practical learning.

In some cases, just by entering the IDEAS Competition, a team gains the initial impetus and guidance to set the ball rolling. A case in point is MoCa: Mobile Care, a team that entered – but did not win – the 2008 Competition for their remote medical diagnosis software. The team received PSC support in the form of a grant and fellowship instead. They have since garnered attention from The Boston Globe as one of the cell phone technologies that has the power to change the world. Here are some noteworthy projects.

Kanchan™ Arsenic Filter (KAF)
2001 $5K International Technology Innovation Award

What is it?
A household-level water treatment technology that removes naturally-occurring arsenic (both odorless and tasteless) and microbial contamination. A modified biosand filter, the KAF uses locally available materials — iron nails, sand, gravel, plastic buckets, and PVC pipes — and can be built locally at the cost of approximately $20 each.

Who needs it?
According to 2008 figures from the World Health Organization, diarrhea kills 2.2 million people annually. Many of these lives could have been saved by safe water and improved sanitation.

Financial support including IDEAS
Over $250,000 from sources including the World Bank, UN-Habitat, and the Environmental Protection Agency.

Implementation
With NGO partners, the KAF has been widely disseminated in Nepal. A $115,000 World Bank Prize went towards implementing a technology transfer model and investigating a sustainable filter distribution strategy in Nepal moved along by Susan Murcott and Tommy Ngai ’02. Currently Tommy is in a doctoral program at the University of Cambridge, UK., where he is focusing on sustainable development and the dissemination of household water treatment systems.
Read more about the KAF...

Robopsy
2005 $5K IDEAS Domestic Project Award

What is it?
A lightweight low-cost, electromechanical device that uses imaging data to enable doctors to precisely guide a tool into the body, for more accurate diagnosis and treatment.

Who needs it?
Patients in need of lung biopsies, tissue ablations, fluid drainages, and targeted drug-delivery.

Financial support including IDEAS
Over $250,000 from the American Society of Medical Engineers, the MIT 100K Entrepreneurship Competition, and the National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance among others.

Implementation
A manufacturing partnership has been established with Johnson Electric Medtech in their Dresden, Germany, facility, and three generations of prototypes have been tested. The team is beginning the FDA process, which is needed before Robopsy can be marketed to the health care industry.
Read more about Robopsy...

Assured Labor
2007 $5K IDEAS Graduate Student Award

What is it?
A low-cost digital platform that leverages mobile phones to quickly connect corporations in emerging markets with workers. Those who provide services post information about their skills, rates, and references; employers post reviews of past employees.

Who needs it?
The digital platform grants mid-to-low wage workers in emerging markets access to hundreds of job opportunities over their mobile phone. Large companies can shorten their recruitment process, enhancing productivity. Workers gain additional opportunities to earn income.

Financial support including IDEAS
Follow on funding from multiple private angel investors, IDEAS, MIT Grants and business plan competitions.

Implementation
Officially launched in Nicaragua in September under the name EmpleoListo in partnership with the country’s largest wireless carrier – Claro. Over 5,000 candidates registered, and hundreds of job postings were sent.
Read more about Assured Labor...

SolSource Project
2007 $3K Yunus Innovation Challenge Award

What is it?
The SolSource 3-in-1 is a lightweight portable solar cooker that has functionality for both cooking and heating. This alternative energy source is made from yak-wool canvas, bamboo, and reflective mylar.

Who needs it?
The SolSource 3-in-1 is easily carried by people in the nomadic and agricultural communities of western China and the greater Himalayas, who otherwise use cement-based solar cookers or indoor open fires that produce indoor air pollution. 

Financial support including IDEAS
Over $95,000 from sources including the Clinton Global Initiative, St. Andrew’s Prize for the Environment, and the Environmental Protection Agency.

Implementation
Prototype 7 of the 3-in-1 was field tested in Qinghai, China, this past summer with favorable results. Team member Scot Frank ‘09 was also a 2009 IDEAS Competition award winner with the Global Citizen Water Initiative and the HeatSource Textiles teams.
Read more about the SolSource Project...

Moca: Mobile Health

What is it?
Similar to ClickDiagnostics (See Spring ‘09 Beyond the Infinite) MoCa is a medical diagnostics platform for health workers in developing nations. The system integrates with industry-standard medical records systems allowing for remote diagnosis via cell phones.

Who needs it?
Patients in remote locations without access to medical specialists.

Financial support including IDEAS
Over $15,000 in Public Service Center Grants and Fellowships, and a Google Summer of Code™ stipend.

Implementation
The team has initiated a pilot test in the Philippines and is working with several organizations such as Partners in Health and Click Diagnostics to tailor the MoCa software platform for specific uses.
Read more about Moca: Mobile Health...

6dot Braille Labeler
2009 $7,500 Health Innovation Award

What is it?
The 6dot Braille Labeler is a small, portable label maker that can produce Braille characters and can be easily loaded and operated by touch. Many other models are expensive — as much as $650 — heavy, or difficult to use. The 6dot will cost approximately $200.

Who needs it?
Those who are blind or have very limited vision face the difficulty of distinguishing one object from another.

Financial support including IDEAS
Over $10,000, including 2.009 class funding

Implementation
The team is collaborating with a manufacturer on the production. The prototype was tested by users in three states this past summer.
Read more about 6dot Braille Labeler...

Lebônê Solutions
2009 $7,500 Yunus Innovation Award

What is it?
A microbial fuel cell (MFC), which is a dirt-powered battery, that can be deployed to rural, off-grid communities by local entrepreneurs.

Who needs it?
Those in sub-Saharan Africa where over 500 million people do not have access to electricity.

Financial support including IDEAS
Over $200,000, including private investments and a grant from the World Bank.

Implementation
Recently named one of the 10 Most Brilliant Innovations of 2009 by Popular Mechanics Magazine, Lebônê Solutions launched a pilot project in Namibia this past summer.
Read more about Lebônê Solutions...

To read more about other IDEAS Competition projects, please visit http://web.mit.edu/ideas and click on past projects.

Public Service in Young Adult Development

A study by Rae Simpson, Ph. D., analyzes recent research on the role of public service among undergraduates

Witnessing first hand the positive outcome of public service for MIT students is impressive. Qualitative research that substantiates these positive outcomes is also needed, and with that in mind, we commissioned Dr. Rae Simpson, Program Director at MIT’s Center for Work, Family, and Personal Life, to analyze existing studies on the role of public service and service learning in young adult development.

One of the priorities of the project was to identify ways in which public service can prepare MIT students for today’s demanding workplace, with its emphasis on globalization, team work, complexity, diversity, and resilience in the face of change.

According to Dr. Simpson’s study, involvement in public service results in sophisticated thinking, problem solving abilities, and improved leadership skills. “Research on the impact of public service, as well as research on factors that are intrinsic to public service, demonstrate significant effects on students’ ability to perform complex academic work, to hone the interpersonal skills needed in today’s workforce, and to respond to the pressing needs of a global society.”

“I was impressed by the number of ways that public service can make a differ-ence – from grades to leadership skills to self-confidence,” says Rae.

Download the full report (PDF)

Reflections from the PSC Leadership Council

Extending the PSC’s capacity to forge ahead

Meeting each April and November, the PSC Leadership Council plays an important role, offering help and insight that contributes to our mission. The Council’s “outside” perspective coupled with a strong belief in the PSC’s work have resulted in identifying new partnerships and resource opportunities.

Along with the subgroups that focus on various initiatives, Council members work directly with PSC staff members. A partnership between Alison Hynd, Fellowships and Internships Administrator, and Bircu Mirza, for instance, resulted in an opportunity for MIT students to work on carbon monoxide remediation in Turkey. Agha Mirza ’94, SM ’95 and Bircu Mirza see “any involvement involvement with the PSC [as] indeed a gift to the largerworld and to our collective future.”

Tabetha Hinman became interested in the Public Service Center when she saw how neatly it fused what she and her husband had been committed to throughout their lives: innovative technology, entrepreneurial training and a desire to leave the world a better place. Carrie Galehouse Frey ’77 believes “that [the PSC] creates productive partnerships between MIT students and disadvantaged communities … enabling poor people to meet the basic human needs of clean water, sustainable food, and affordable energy.” “It’s very rewarding to invest in young lives and see them touch other lives often halfway across the world,” says James (Jim) Taylor ’65, SM ’67. Joe Levitch ’69 says that the students’ “commitment and dedication to their projects inspired [him] to get involved with their work.”

Bill Putt ’59, SM ’64, PhD ’67 never tires of hearing inspirational student stories. Paul Gray ’54, SM ’55, PhD ’60 and Priscilla Gray are also active members of the Council, as is Andrew Gray ’87 (no relation). If you are interested in learning more about the Council, contact Sally at psc@mit.edu.

Int’l Design Workshop

Service Learning in Hawaii

Architecture students in Professor Jan Wampler’s Class: International Design Workshop (4.170) are using their fall class experience to support low income farmers on the island of Hawaii. Alhough Hawaii is not an international location, the needs of the indigenous population are similar to that of one. Partnering with the Kohala Center, the course is working to develop inexpensive housing using locally available materials. They are also designing a community for the farmers with shared facilities and sustainable systems.

After studying the history and architecture of Hawaii, as well as low-cost housing in other tropical areas, the students and Professor Wampler traveled to the Big Island in October to meet their local sponsors, families that will live in the homes, and to do further research on the landscape. “We are implementing change that people appreciate,” says Ryan Doone (G, Course 4). Yuliya Bentcheva (G, Course 4) agrees, saying “this project isn’t imaginary. It is a realistic project that we will actually do.” Over IAP, the students will return to build a model of the housing and present the vision for the larger community.

Leadership Council Member

“The MIT students who work with the PSC do a tremendous job of leveraging their unique abilities to analyze problems and engineer solutions and point it at parts of the world that may rarely see that kind of attention.”
Tabetha Hinman
Co-Chair of the PSC Leadership Council

Infinite Opportunities

MIT Giving Tree

Help provide gifts for local children during the holiday season! Gift labels: pick-up at the PSC(4-104) beginning November 30. Wrapped, purchased gifts: drop off at the PSC by Tuesday, December 15. Read more about the Giving Tree.