Did You Ever Wonder: Ashok GadgilDid You Ever Wonder Web SiteDid You Ever Wonder Web Site
Passing the (solar) torch

Environmental problems can't be solved without basic science and better ways to apply it -- which means the world needs inventors.

A prolific inventor himself, Ashok Gadgil also volunteers as an Invention Mentor to winners of the Lemelson-MIT High School Invention Apprenticeship (more about the program).

A recent winner is Jordan Sand, an 18-year-old high school student from North Dakota who chose to spend several weeks with Gadgil's group at Berkeley Lab so he could see, first-hand, ideas in the process of being developed and winnowed out as practical inventions. Sand's wish to study with Gadgil was an obvious choice: when he was still in the 7th grade, Sand invented a solar-powered water purifier.

Sand, who lives on a farm, has focused his ingenuity on ways to benefit the environment while helping the economy of the local farming community. His winning invention was a new use for agricultural waste from local crops: he developed a method to manufacture paper from wheat, corn, and flax straw, as well as cattails, which could provide additional income to farmers.

 
Tracking polluted air

Water and air are both fluids; understanding how they flow is one of the keys to better human health.

At Berkeley Lab, scientists model large indoor spaces like auditoriums in test chambers such as the "fish tank," which uses water to stand in for air; flowing dye is easy to see. In a full-sized test facility, pollutants are picked out by laser beams, and airflow patterns are constructed in a way similar to the CAT scans used in medicine. Computer programs can also simulate the flow of air and various pollutants, whether mixed together or not, through different interior zones.

Understanding how air and pollutants move through a building has led to healthier ventilation systems. It also gives firefighters and other emergency response teams the vital information they need to stop the spread of dangerous vapors through a building, whether spilled accidentally or released deliberately. And it saves energy too!

 

 
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Ernest Orlando Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory