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Medicine Hardware Technology

Students Invent Revolutionary Solar Sterilizer 98

Posted by Soulskill
from the bacteria-torture-device dept.
greenerd writes "Engineering students at Rice University have solved a huge health concern in developing countries by creating a device that uses the sun to sterilize medical instruments. This invention could help prevent the spread of infection and illness in clinics around the world without access to proper sterilization tools."
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Students Invent Revolutionary Solar Sterilizer

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  • by isopropanol (1936936) on Saturday May 07, 2011 @03:16PM (#36058294) Journal

    Also need to convince people that this is better and cheaper than a pressure cooker, liquid-fuel camp stove, and jerry-can of gasoline.

  • Fire? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Kohath (38547) on Saturday May 07, 2011 @03:30PM (#36058368)

    Doesn't fire sterilize just fine? They have fire.

    And, for plastic items, fire can be used to boil water to sterilize those.

  • by nzac (1822298) on Saturday May 07, 2011 @03:33PM (#36058374)

    Not in the developing countries themselves I would think. Getting it patented in developing world counties would be an order of magnitude more work than inventing it.
    Almost all of the patient stories we see on /. are just for the US.

  • by jd (1658) <<moc.oohay> <ta> <kapimi>> on Saturday May 07, 2011 @03:48PM (#36058450) Homepage Journal

    Yes, the invention that UK and US companies scoffed at, the SA government funded, and has now made the inventor a multi-millionaire.

    Why mention that? Because this invention - if it is to succeed - will have to follow a similar path. There's no way on Earth that companies selling highly expensive sterilization systems will want to add a cheap alternative to their sales brochure. And the only way this invention will get refined to the point of being practical and widely distributed is with serious cash - which means a large corporation (see above) or a government providing the seed money.

    Having said that, they have to battle inertia. UV lamps can sterilize hospital rooms that have MRSA contamination quickly and easily, but much more expensive and dramatic methods are typically used (largely because they're expensive, dramatic and involve machines that go bing). Inertia is a serious problem in the medical profession. There's good reason for being conservative - you don't want to do more harm than good - but there's plenty of cases where that's merely a pretext for delaying change.

  • Re:Fire? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Jessified (1150003) on Saturday May 07, 2011 @04:25PM (#36058642)

    I think fire would leave carbon on the instruments. Boiling at atmospheric pressure is insufficient (100 C is insufficient for sterilization).

    From Wikipedia: "To achieve sterility, a holding time of at least 15 minutes at 121 C (250 F) or 3 minutes at 134 C (273 F) is required."
    https://secure.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/wiki/Sterilization_(microbiology) [wikimedia.org]

    The numbers vary by method, but I think the principle remains. Many pathogens have spore forms which are incredibly heat resistant.

  • by GrantRobertson (973370) on Saturday May 07, 2011 @04:58PM (#36058786) Homepage Journal

    I am sorry but I am getting really sick of reading about all these students at prestigious universities who do nothing more than re-purpose existing technology, give it a fancy name, say it will solve some problem for the underdeveloped world, and get international accolades for doing the technological equivalent of buying a paper off the internet and putting their name on it.

    Every single piece of this "revolutionary" "invention" can be bought off the shelf and is in current use. The main difference between an autoclave and a standard pressure cooker is that the autoclave is guaranteed to get up to the proper temperature and pressure and then stay there for the specified period of time. Considering that this contraption must be hand adjusted, and it requires at least an hour just to get up to temp, and then it has to stay at that temp for around an hour - being constantly adjusted all the time - there is no guarantee whatsoever that the instruments will actually be sterilized. If the operator gets distracted for a while then all you get is a bunch of hot - but still infectious - instruments.

    Sure, if these students built every single piece of their solar steam generator by hand, it would be a good exercise - akin to an art student copying an old master - but that is all. If I was their professor and they tried to pass this off as their own creation I would have failed them and turned them in for plagiarism.

  • by jenningsthecat (1525947) on Saturday May 07, 2011 @06:21PM (#36059164)

    If these things are such no-brainers, then why haven't they been developed previously? The 'obviousness' AFTER THE FACT of these solutions has no bearing on either the creativity, ingenuity, and skill that went into them, nor on their value.

    Technology builds upon itself. Most of our technological advancements today come from people who "re-purpose existing technology". I design hardware for a living; I re-purpose existing electronic components in useful, and often novel, ways to create devices that meet a client's needs. A programmer 're-purposes' an existing language, and a set of existing libraries, to create a new and useful application. Mark Shuttleworth takes Linux and Gnome, and re-purposes them to make Ubuntu. (No 'Unity' comments please...). ALL of these, including "these students at prestigious universities who do nothing more than re-purpose existing technology" constitute acts of transformation, not of 'plagiarism'.

  • Re:Fire? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by grcumb (781340) on Saturday May 07, 2011 @06:46PM (#36059242) Homepage Journal

    Doesn't fire sterilize just fine? They have fire.

    And, for plastic items, fire can be used to boil water to sterilize those.

    That's probably a better starting point than this idea.

    My complaint about this (and a number of other 'developing world' technologies) is that they try to solve the entire puzzle all at once. And that usually requires a degree of cleverness. That cleverness usually requires either custom components or a particular environment in which to work. Which makes it effectively useless.

    The problem here is that people seems to be conflating 'hot' with 'sunny'. It's a common misconception that, because the poorest nations in the world tend to cluster around the equator, they mus all be sunny. They're not.

    If I had a single piece of advice to offer well-intended people trying to develop tech for the developing world, I'd say this: Focus on reducing power consumption. Don't get clever, just make it run on 12V DC. Don't worry about where the power is going to come from. If we have to, we'll buy batteries. And please, above all, try to avoid making life-saving equipment that doesn't work during hurricane season!

  • by grcumb (781340) on Saturday May 07, 2011 @07:10PM (#36059308) Homepage Journal

    If these things are such no-brainers, then why haven't they been developed previously? The 'obviousness' AFTER THE FACT of these solutions has no bearing on either the creativity, ingenuity, and skill that went into them, nor on their value.

    Without taking away from your argument - it's perfectly valid - I'd suggest to you that the main reason for lack of development in what's often called Appropriate Technology is that, for the most part, most of the people involved are against new technological approaches, especially those that challenge their own ability to draw a salary.

    I've experienced first-hand situations where donors would rather spend a half million dollars on a project that's fraught with predictable, inevitable problems than spend twenty thousand on something new. In every case, it's because there's no Advisor salary attached to the latter. Rhetoric aside, most development agencies have a neo-colonial bias that simply assumes that aid workers are better suited to solving problems than the people who are living them. The real answer is usually somewhere in the middle, but the structures of development aid are such that it's nigh on impossible to actually do good.

  • by Sarten-X (1102295) on Saturday May 07, 2011 @10:27PM (#36060042) Homepage
    They're minor details that kill off a staggering number of projects. I'm also not convinced the OLPC is a success yet, and it's been almost four years. Only 2 million laptops have been distributed, at double the intended price point, to only a few countries. OLPC is certainly ferther along the path to success, but I don't think they're there just yet.

If a 6600 used paper tape instead of core memory, it would use up tape at about 30 miles/second. -- Grishman, Assembly Language Programming

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