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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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  • Not solved just yet (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Sarten-X (1102295) on Saturday May 07, 2011 @04:06PM (#36058248) Homepage

    students... have solved...

    No, they haven't. They have made some nice progress, and apparently have small-scale usage in Haiti, but I certainly wouldn't classify the problem as "solved". They still need to get the devices to where they're needed, which means shipping, mass manufacturing, establishing supply lines, and convincing somebody (corporation, government, investor, or otherwise) that this is a worthwhile idea.

  • Just minor details (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday May 07, 2011 @04:18PM (#36058316)

    students... have solved...

    No, they haven't. They have made some nice progress, and apparently have small-scale usage in Haiti, but I certainly wouldn't classify the problem as "solved". They still need to get the devices to where they're needed, which means shipping, mass manufacturing, establishing supply lines, and convincing somebody (corporation, government, investor, or otherwise) that this is a worthwhile idea.

    If it was possible to do all of the above for something non-essential like a laptop computer [], I'm pretty sure it can be done with a something that actually saves lives.

    The major hurdle has been solved and the tings you mention are just minor details.

  • Re:Fire? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday May 07, 2011 @04:55PM (#36058488)

    If boiling water sterilized well enough for this, the autoclave would never have been invented. And fire may sterilize the outside of something (a needle, for example) but actual surgical implements are a bit tricky to sterilize that way because they have hinges, springs and other things that fire may play havoc with.

    The problem they are working on is a very genuine one.

  • Re:is he naming it (Score:4, Interesting)

    by ColdWetDog (752185) on Saturday May 07, 2011 @05:49PM (#36058742) Homepage
    The problem with a generic UV sterilizer is that every surface that you want to sterilize has to be exposed to the UV. The box joint inside a scissor, for example, would not be sterilized. The advantage of the device in TFA is that it presumeably would be easy to build in the field and would not need electricity. A potential issue would be clean water. Running dirty water, or even water with a large amount of dissolved solids (hard water) is rough on sterilizers.

    Also, steam sterilization is very well understood and is pretty easy to track. Quality assurance for UV sterilization isn't easy in a low tech society.
  • by ColdWetDog (752185) on Saturday May 07, 2011 @06:01PM (#36058798) Homepage

    Why is it that slashdot goes so quickly to the patent side of things, yet so many people are not lawyers?

    And since when has even the appearance of expertise in any given field been a criteria for posting? That's half the fun, chattering off about stuff that we know little about.

    Anyway, I'm dubious. Why mess with a bulky, fragile, comparatively costly solar array? Is fire from wood not hot enough? Is it a matter of you'd have to supply a lot of wood?

    The solar array, although bulky and fragile, is pretty low tech. Easy to copy with basically junk yard parts. Sterilization (especially of any quantity of stuff) is very energy intensive. Remember, you have to heat water to the vapor point under pressure - lots of calories involved in the phase change. And wood (or kerosene or charcoal or whatever) IS in short supply in many areas.

    The idea behind this sort of device is to get people to do something they haven't been doing - sterilizing medical gear. There are many documented cases of transmission of AIDS, hepatitis and whatever infectious disease you want to mention by well intentioned but poorly trained and supported medical staff. Often the transmission comes from reuse of equipment. Much of the time, it's reuse of something designed to be thrown away (think plastic syringes). These are a real problem since they're cheap and can't be easily sterilized. Certainly you can't autoclave a plastic syringe (successfully). But even for reusable stuff, autoclaving often is a hangup. The sterilizers do use a fair amount of heat and they are often cranky of maintenance. I don't see the magic bullet in the TFA fixing this part of the equation, but it's a reasonable start to the power requirements.

  • Re:is he naming it (Score:4, Interesting)

    by PopeRatzo (965947) * on Saturday May 07, 2011 @06:08PM (#36058826) Homepage Journal

    How about "rice cooker" - since all it really is, is a mirror

    "All" it really is? I would guess that for most of the world, an inexpensive device that uses free energy to not only sterilize medical tools but also to cook a pot of rice is not at all trivial.

    Especially considering the health hazards involved in burning wood or dried dung to accomplish the same thing.

    I only recently figured out why so many people just scoff at any application of solar energy and get boners from the idea of using nuclear fission to light a bulb: It's because solar energy just doesn't seem high-techy enough and nuclear energy brings to mind guys in lab coats and geiger counters and mushroom clouds and all that cool stuff.

  • Plumpynut (Score:4, Interesting)

    by adam (1231) on Saturday May 07, 2011 @06:43PM (#36058994)
    The peanutbutter-like product nzac is referencing is most commonly known as Plumpynut. It's used the world over, and I can attest it really does make a huge and immediate difference in the near-term outcome for malnourished children (the root cause of malnutrition — poverty — is often not addressed). September of last year the NYT ran an article [] on Partners In Health [] and their Nourimamba version of the PB product. For readers who want to know more about what you alluded to, I thought I'd chime in with some links and such. Plumpynut is patented in several countries, but not Haiti. Partners In Health uses local farmers to grow peanuts and employs local personnel to manufacture Nourimamba.

    Partners in Health harvests peanuts from a 30-acre farm or buys them from a cooperative of 200 smallholders. It’s planning to build a larger factory, but for now the nuts are taken to the main hospital in Cange, where women sort them in straw baskets, roast them over an outside gas burner, run them through a hand grinder and mix all the ingredients into a paste that is poured into reusable plastic canisters.

    PIH has a slideshow of manufacturing Nourimamba on smugmug, here []. The Times article [] does address some of the interesting (and sad) legal wrangling behind a simple peanut mix that has the power to save millions of lives. Also, for an interesting take on how famines can be "manufactured" by unscrupulous governments or warlords seeking to skim or redirect aid, see Linda Polman's work []. Here's an excerpt from a Guardian article,

    All too frequently, according to Polman, the result is not what it says in the charity brochures. She cites a damning catalogue of examples from Biafra to Darfur, and including the Ethiopian famine, in which humanitarian aid has helped prolong wars, or rewarded the perpetrators of ethnic cleansing and genocide rather than the victims. Perhaps the most striking case in the book deals with the aftermath of the genocide in Rwanda in which the Hutu killers fled en masse across the border to what was then Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo). There, in Goma, huge refugee camps were assembled and served by an enormous array of international agencies, while back in Rwanda, where Tutsi corpses filled rivers and lakes, aid was not so focused. The world was looking for refugees, the symbol of human catastrophe, and the refugees were Hutus. This meant the militias that had committed the atrocities received food, shelter and support, courtesy of international appeals, while their surviving victims were left destitute. Worse still, Polman believes the aid enabled the Hutu extremists to continue their attempt to exterminate the Tutsis from the security of the UNHCR camps in Goma. "Without humanitarian aid," she writes, "the Hutus' war would almost certainly have ground to a halt fairly quickly."

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