For decades, teams of Berkeley Lab scientists have investigated the ways that indoor air quality affects human health—from cognitive ability to personal comfort.
Berkeley Lab: Bringing Solutions to the Developing World
Women living in refugee camps in Darfur often walk miles to gather firewood. Volunteer Scott Sadlon trained workers in Darfur to assemble the Berkeley-Darfur stove, which is far more fuel-efficient than traditional stoves.
Billions of people around the world cook their meals on rudimentary stoves fueled by burning wood or other biomass, resulting in smoke and carbon emissions that both damage human health and pollute the environment. For women living in refugee camps in Darfur, the problem is compounded because they often walk miles to gather firewood, exposing them to violence.
To address these issues, Berkeley Lab scientist Ashok Gadgil designed the Berkeley-Darfur stove, which uses up to three times less wood than the traditional three-stone stoves and prevents up to two tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually. The Darfur Stoves Project was established to produce and distribute the stoves and has support from the Blum Center for Developing Economies and the Sustainable Products and Solutions Program. In a partnership with Oxfam America and the Sustainable Action Group, a Sudanese charity, thousands of the stoves are being assembled and distributed in Darfur.
Separately, Gadgil and his group are working with World Vision to adapt the stove for use in Ethiopia, which has experienced severe deforestation. About 80 percent of the population still uses traditional three-stone fires to prepare meals; and the average household uses 11 kg of wood-equivalent per day, or 4 metric tons annually. The scientists are working not only to create a more efficient stove specific for use in Ethiopia, but to finance the project by selling carbon credits on the world carbon market.
Some 70 million Bangladeshis are drinking arsenic-contaminated well water, causing one in five deaths in that country, according to a recent study in The Lancet. Although the World Health Organization’s recommended maximum limit for arsenic in drinking water is 10 ppb, the arsenic levels in Bangladesh, in some cases, exceed 1,000 ppb. Several technologies have attempted to address this devastating problem, but nearly every one has failed in implementation.
Scientists at Berkeley Lab, in collaboration with UC Berkeley, have developed two low-cost, sustainable solutions to the problem accompanied by an innovative business model that is informed by culturally relevant data, lessons from failed technologies and implementations, and public-health success stories from other parts of South Asia. ARUBA (arsenic removal using bottom ash) and ECAR (electrochemical arsenic remediation) provide cost-effective water remediation in small facilities designed to supply drinking water for about 500 to 1,000 people.
Berkeley Lab researchers estimate the cost of just the technical arsenic remediation of 10 liters of water per day (needed per person) to be about $1 annually using the ECAR method and between $7 and $15 annually using the ARUBA method. (ECAR needs a small amount of electricity, while ARUBA does not.)
Learn more at: arsenic.lbl.gov
In 1992-1993, a mutant strain of cholera (the “Bengal Cholera”) hit India, Bangladesh and several other countries, killing thousands of people. The standard vaccine was ineffective and most of the populace of India could not afford to boil their drinking water to protect themselves. Ashok Gadgil, a Berkeley Lab scientist, spurred to action by the tragedy, developed an affordable, effective and low-maintenance water disinfection system employing ultraviolet (UV) light. Cleaning water at four gallons/minute for pennies a gallon, UVWaterworks has been licensed by WaterHealth International and installed in more than 10 countries around the world; by early 2010 these systems were bringing clean water to over 2 million people. Water-borne diseases, such as dysentery, are the largest environmental cause of child and infant mortality in the developing world, killing about 2 million children annually.
Learn more at: eande.lbl.gov/iep/archive/uv
Malaria has become increasingly resistant to first-line drug therapies, but combination drugs containing artemisinin derivatives show nearly 100 percent effectiveness against the malaria parasite. Yet, at a price of approximately $2.20 per adult course, these drugs are still beyond the reach of the world’s poorest people. Using the tools of synthetic biology, Berkeley Lab scientist Jay Keasling created a microbial precursor to artemisinin by adding new genes and engineering a new metabolic pathway in Escherichia coli bacteria.
According to the World Health Organization, each year nearly 500 million people living in the tropics and subtropics become infected with malaria, suffering burning fever and severe pain. Nearly three million—mostly children—die. With a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Artemisinin Project was established as a partnership of the Institute for OneWorld Health, Amyris Biotechnologies, Sanofi-Aventis, and the University of California, Berkeley to make life-saving artemisinin combination therapies more accessible to people in the developing world.
Learn more at: www.oneworldhealth.org/malaria
Thomas Edison’s seemingly forward-looking statement that “we will make electricity so cheap that only the rich will burn candles” was true enough for the industrialized world, but it did not anticipate the plight of 1.6 billion people—more than the world’s population in Edison’s time—who 100 years later still have no access to electricity. The Lumina Project began by identifying and quantifying the much-overlooked specter of fuel-based lighting in the developing world. Researchers found that those at the bottom of the economic pyramid spend $38 billion each year on inefficient, ineffective, and polluting light from kerosene and other fuels. They then identified the potential of compact, rugged, and affordable light-emitting diode (“LED”) systems to displace these fuels, while providing radically improved energy services. As NGOs and private companies engage in bringing solutions to the market, the Lumina Project, with support from the Blum Center for Developing Economies, evolves with them and continues to help accelerate technology innovation and the development of markets.
Discovered 16 elements.
The periodic table would be smaller without Berkeley Lab. Among the Lab’s handiwork is an instrumental role in the discovery of technetium-99, which has revolutionized the field of medical imaging. Another discovery, americium, is widely used in smoke detectors.
Identified good and bad cholesterol.
The battle against heart disease received a boost in the 1960s when Berkeley Lab research unveiled the good and bad sides of cholesterol. Today, diagnostic tests that detect both types of cholesterol save lives.
Turned windows into energy savers.
Americans save billions of dollars in energy bills each year thanks to a Berkeley Lab-developed window coating that prevents heat from entering in the summer and escaping in the winter. More than half of all windows sold each year have this coating.
Confirmed the Big Bang, and discovered dark energy.
Lab detectors aboard a NASA satellite revealed the birth of the galaxies in the echoes of the Big Bang. And dark energy—the mysterious something that makes up three-quarters of the universe and causes it to expand at an accelerating rate—was discovered by Berkeley Lab’s Supernova Cosmology Project.
Unmasked a dinosaur killer.
Natural history’s greatest whodunit was solved in 1980 when a team of scientists led by Berkeley Lab’s Walter Alvarez pinned the dinosaurs’ abrupt extinction on an asteroid collision with Earth.
Ever wonder how plants turn sunlight into energy? Berkeley Lab’s Melvin Calvin determined the path of carbon through photosynthesis, a scientific milestone that illuminated one of life’s most important processes. Today, this work allows scientists to explore how to derive sustainable energy sources from the sun.
Derailed an ecological danger.
In the 1980s, Lab scientists linked the poisoning of birds at a reservoir in California’s San Joaquin Valley to selenium contamination from agricultural runoff. Their work exposed a looming national problem and sparked environmental agencies to take action.
Exposed the radon risk.
You can sleep easier thanks to Berkeley Lab research that quantified the health risk posed by radon gas in parts of the country. Subsequent EPA standards, coupled with radon detection and mitigation measures pioneered by the Lab, prevent the naturally occurring gas from seeping into basements, saving thousands of lives every year.
Given fluorescent lights their big break.
Chances are you’re reading this using energy-efficient fluorescent lighting, and chances are those lights use electronic ballasts, which control the current flowing through the light. Berkeley Lab developed the ballast in the 1970s with the lighting industry. A 2001 study found that electronic ballasts sold through 2005 would provide $15 billion in energy savings.
Pitted cool roofs against global warming.
Berkeley Lab leads the way in analyzing and implementing cool roofing materials, which reflect sunlight, lower surface temperature, and slash cooling costs. Think globally: If all the world’s roofs and pavement used cool materials, the reduction in carbon dioxide emissions would be equivalent to taking the world’s 600 million cars off the road for 18 years.
Built a better battery.
A new family of long-lasting rechargeable batteries was made possible when Berkeley Lab scientists invented a novel class of solid polymer cathodes. Now, Lab scientists are developing long-life, safe batteries for EVs.
Preserved the sounds of yesteryear.
Berkeley Lab scientists engineered a high-tech way to digitally reconstruct aging sound recordings that are too fragile to play, such as Edison wax cylinders from the late 1800s. Many of the millions of recordings in the world’s sound archives, including those in the U.S. Library of Congress, are benefiting from the technology.
Fabricated the smallest machines.
The world’s smallest synthetic motor—as well as radios, scales, and switches that are 100,000 times finer than a human hair—were engineered at Berkeley Lab. These and other ground-breaking forays into nanotechnology could lead to life-saving pharmaceuticals and more powerful computers.
Redefined the causes of breast cancer.
A new path in cancer treatment research was forged thanks to a revolutionary theory developed at Berkeley Lab that links breast cancer to a breakdown in the micro-environment surrounding breast cells.
Given buildings an energy makeover.
Berkeley Lab wrote the book, or program rather, when it comes to wringing every penny out of a building’s energy use. Software developed at the Lab is used worldwide to audit a structure’s energy consumption. If you’ve set foot in the San Francisco Airport, Willis Tower, or the Nestle Headquarters in Switzerland, you’ve experienced energy savings thanks to Berkeley Lab.
Created a pocket-sized DNA sampler.
A tool that identifies the microbes in air, water, and soil samples is fast becoming a workhorse in public health, medical, and environmental cleanup projects. Only a few years old, the credit-card sized PhyloChip is already pinpointing the diseases that kill coral reefs, and cataloging airborne bacteria over U.S. cities.
Revealed the secrets of the human genome.
Berkeley Lab, no stranger to big science, played a key role in the landmark Human Genome Project. The Walnut Creek-based Joint Genome Institute, managed in part by Berkeley Lab, sequenced human chromosomes 5, 16, and 19, which are regions of the genetic library implicated in diabetes, atherosclerosis, asthma, and other diseases.
Brought safe drinking water to thousands.
More than half a million people drink clean water, thanks to a fast and cheap purifier developed at Berkeley Lab. The device, called UV Waterworks, uses ultraviolet light to kill waterborne diseases such as dysentery, which is a major cause of child mortality in the developing world.
Made appliances pull their weight.
U.S. consumers save $7 billion each year thanks to Berkeley Lab scientists who helped to develop the federal government’s energy-efficiency standards for appliances. And those Energy Star labels you see on appliances? The Lab helped to implement those, too.
Caught malaria in the act.
A never-before seen view of the malaria parasite inside a red blood cell was obtained at Berkeley Lab’s Advanced Light Source. The images led to a better understanding of how malaria changes red blood cells and may help scientists improve drugs that fight the deadly disease.
Created the toughest ceramic.
Berkeley Lab scientists mimicked the structure of mollusk shells to create what may well be the toughest ceramic ever produced. The material could lead to incredibly strong yet light composites that are perfect for energy and transportation applications.
Helped bring energy efficiency to China.
Since 1988, Berkeley Lab scientists have worked to make China, the world’s second-largest energy consumer after the U.S., as energy efficient as possible. Energy labels and appliance standards, developed with considerable support from Berkeley Lab, will reduce carbon emissions in China by about 9.1 billion tons between 2009 and 2030. The Lab has also helped improve energy efficiency in China’s residential and commercial buildings, and in industries such as cement manufacturing.
Supercharged the climate model.
Climate simulations conducted at Berkeley Lab’s National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center helped to make global warming a dinner table conversation. Lab scientists are now developing a more powerful model that forecasts climate change’s impact on ecosystems and human health around the world. It will also predict how well carbon-cutting strategies curb global warming.
Pioneered medical imaging.
In the 1950s, Berkeley Lab’s Hal Anger developed a scintillation camera that enabled physicians to detect tumors by imaging gamma rays emitted by radioactive isotopes. The camera that bears his name evolved into modern imaging systems, such as PET, which enable doctors to detect many diseases early enough to save patients’ lives.
Brought the stars closer.
Scientists can glimpse supernovae billions of light years away thanks to revolutionary telescope technology developed at Berkeley Lab in the late 1970s. The segmented mirror design is used at many observatories worldwide, including the giant twin telescopes of the Keck Observatory on the summit of Mauna Kea in Hawaii, which are the most powerful ground-based telescopes in the world.
Discovered a clock for dating artifacts.
How old is that bone? With a half-life of 5,730 years, carbon-14 is perfect for dating biological materials and organic remains from archaeological sites. The isotope was discovered at Berkeley Lab in 1940, opening the door to a better understanding of our past.
Built the world’s most powerful microscope.
The hidden world of atoms is now exposed thanks to a record-setting electron microscope called TEAM. Unveiled in 2008 at Berkeley Lab, it can produce images with a resolution of half an angstrom, which is less than the diameter of a single hydrogen atom.
Made a tabletop accelerator.
Think of it as a Ferrari for physics. A Berkeley lab team has ramped up the energy of a laser-plasma “tabletop” accelerator, creating a world record in the process. By shrinking the size of particle accelerators, our researchers are paving the way for next-generation cancer treatments as well as answering fundamental questions of physics.
Squeezed fuel from microbes.
In a milestone that brings advanced biofuels one step closer to your gas tank, a collaboration led by scientists with the Department of Energy’s Joint BioEnergy Institute developed a microbe that can produce fuel directly from biomass. The team, which includes Berkeley Lab scientists, engineered a strain of Escherichia coli bacteria to secrete biodiesel fuel.
Mimicked photosynthesis for clean energy.
A potential game-changer in artificial photosynthesis was achieved with a system that can capture carbon dioxide emissions and then, powered by solar energy, convert the carbon dioxide into chemical products such as plastics, pharmaceutical drugs, and even liquid fuels.
Measured the scale of the universe to an accuracy of one percent.
The Baryon Oscillation Spectroscopic Survey (BOSS) Collaboration measured the scale of the universe to an accuracy of one percent, the most precise such measurement ever made. This and future measures at this precision are the key to determining the nature of dark energy.
Confirmed that thirdhand smoke causes DNA damage.
Our researchers found for the first time that thirdhand smoke—the noxious residue that clings to surfaces long after the secondhand smoke from a cigarette has cleared out—causes significant genetic damage in human cells.
Imaged the smallest life forms ever.
Our scientists captured the first detailed microscopy images of ultra-small bacteria that are believed to be about as small as life can get. About 150 of these bacteria could fit inside an Escherichia coli cell and more than 150,000 cells could fit onto the tip of a human hair.
Caught climate change in the act.
For the first time, our scientists observed an increase in carbon dioxide’s greenhouse effect at the Earth’s surface. They attributed this upward trend to rising CO2 levels from fossil fuel emissions. The influence of atmospheric CO2 on the planet’s energy balance is well established, but this effect had not been experimentally confirmed outside the laboratory until now.
Created a powerful genetic engineering tool.
Our scientists were at the forefront in developing a powerful new genetic engineering tool. Called CRISPR, it enables geneticists to precisely edit the instructions contained in a targeted genome and regulate the expression of the genes that are produced. Already being used to edit microbial genomes, the technique might one day be used to remove cancerous genes.
Download a PDF of “10 on the Way“
Take a look at some incredible images from the science we conduct at Berkeley Lab.