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.

AuthorAID to add online courses for social scientists

AuthorAID, a network that helps scientists in developing countries publish and communicate their work, is seeking partners to help develop courses specific to social sciences.

These would be online courses, following the success of the recent move to do more courses online instead of face-to-face — expanding the initiative’s reach while reducing costs.

“We want to collaborate with someone as we expand into the social sciences,” says Ravi Murugesan, who designs and runs online courses for AuthorAID, an initiative managed by UK development charity the International Network for the Availability of Scientific Publications (INASP). Read more in SciDev.Net.

Low-tech data access is still needed

Here at the World Social Science Forum 2013 in Montreal, Canada, scientists are still calling for innovative, low-tech methods that will enable people in developing nations to capitalise on data.

In recent years there has been a surge in the amount of linked data: networks of connected data sets that can be combined to create powerful repositories of knowledge. All this data could be a boon for people in the developing world — as long as they can access it. Read more in SciDev.Net.

Researchers get down with the kids

Kids in Sub-Saharan Africa are getting involved in social sciences — and not just as the subjects of research.

A project led by Gina Porter, an anthropologist from Durham University in the United Kingdom, is using ‘child researchers’ to help academics study how mobile phone technologies are changing the way young people travel and interact. Read more in SciDev.Net.

Canada’s CIDA reform could aid innovation work

Innovation and technology development could be boosted by the controversial merger of the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) with the country’s foreign affairs department, according to the head of a group that represents Canadian NGOs.

But CIDA should be careful not to neglect development at the expense of foreign affairs and trade interests through the new arrangement, says Julia Sánchez, CEO of the Canadian Council for International Co-operation (CCIC). Read more in SciDev.Net.