What can ‘frugal innovation’ do for development?

Last summer, Jessica VanderGiessen did something unusual. The bioengineering student from Santa Clara University in California, United States, spent two days travelling the rough dirt roads of West Bengal state in India, testing the drinking water in rural villages for arsenic contamination.

But instead of taking water samples back to a distant lab for analysis, VanderGiessen simply put a drop of water onto a plastic chip containing three electrodes. A miniature electrochemical analyser then processed and displayed the results on an Android tablet computer within seconds.

The trip was part of a project that VanderGiessen is working on with her university’s Frugal Innovation Lab, a programme in the engineering department that seeks cheap, rugged ways to overcome problems in the developing world and at home. She was examining a prototype of a portable device to quickly test water for arsenic contamination in the field — designed and built by her student colleagues. Read more in SciDev.Net.