Developing Nations Benefit from Student Engineering, Innovation

April 4, 2006

by Amanda Lewis

Innovation is an essential element of progress, but developing nations continuously struggle for the resources to make that progress a reality. However, one Baylor University professor is trying to change that through innovative research and the help of four of his students.

Dr. Walter Bradley, distinguished professor of mechanical engineering, began researching new technologies to aid developing nations in producing their own value-added products. The team of students has been aiding Bradley in his research of the use of coconut products.

Team members are Howard Huang, a Bellingham, Wash. graduate student; Chris Culver, a Tulsa, Okla., junior; Micaela Landivar, a Bryan sophomore; and Jason Poel, a Waco senior. The group aims to educate villages on how to utilize materials native to the area for their benefit.

"We want to develop new technologies that are simple enough to be affordable and useful at the village level that will generate real economic development in the village, enhancing the quality of life and providing jobs," Bradley said. "The coconut can be used to provide electricity, clean water, fuel for cooking, particle board for housing and feed for pigs and chickens that can be converted into food for people."

In addition to their lab research, the team also has produced business strategies to market their innovative products. These business plans suggest ways for a developing economy to pay back investment capital within five years of implementation, the goal of their plan being to make the process as feasible for these villages as possible.

Last Saturday, March 25, the team presented their research at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry during the 10th annual March Madness of the Mind exhibition, an invitation-only event sponsored by the National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance and the Lemelson Foundation. March Madness of the Mind occurs during the NCIIA Annual Meeting, this year titled "Strengthening the Fabric: Building capacity for innovation and entrepreneurship."

Baylor's "E-Team" was one of 11 collegiate groups to participate in the event in which students collaborate to combine engineering, science and business concepts to develop an innovative product for use in developing countries. In addition to providing creative solutions to common problems, the team had to consider the economic impact on the society as well.

Huang believes that the team's research will be used by developing nations to improve their quality of life. The students aim to give these villages the tools to build their economy on their own.

"We will create jobs and create things that can be sold locally. With job creation, we create money that will be circulating in the community to create more jobs," he said. "The items our research creates will further limit the amount of money outflow. For example, instead of buying imported plywood, the villagers can buy the particle board made of coconut husk made locally."

Christian organizations from several countries, including Kenya, Mexico, India, Vietnam and Bangladesh, have expressed interest in implementing Baylor's E-team business plan to aid the growth of small villages. Bradley admits there is still substantial work to be done before the plan can be put into effect, but the team has helped move the project closer to realization.

"We will do our first demonstration of concept project in KarKar, Papua New Guinea in 2006," he said. "If we can demonstrate that the technology and the economics work, then we can get world bank loans to do project work around the world."

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