UC Berkeley professor inducted into National Inventors Hall of Fame

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UC Berkeley professor of civil and environmental engineering Ashok Gadgil was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame on Tuesday for two groundbreaking innovations that have improved living conditions for millions of people around the world.

Gadgil, the director of the Environmental Energy Technologies Division at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, was commended specifically for inventing UV Waterworks, a water disinfection system that uses ultraviolet light technology to eliminate disease-causing pathogens. He was also honored for creating the Berkeley-Darfur Stove — designed to use less than half of the fuel of traditional stoves — which has protected women in Darfur from being exposed to violence when they search for firewood in dangerous areas.

Gadgil recalled his inspiration for starting the UV Waterworks project back in 1993, when tens of thousands of people were dying every month from waterborne diseases in countries such as India and Bangladesh.

“I said to myself, ‘I’m in an amazing place like Berkeley with so much knowledge about science at our fingertips,’ ” Gadgil said. “We should be able to figure out a way to address this that‘s affordable and highly effective.”

Working with affected communities was truly “energizing,” Gadgil said, due to the hardship and bravery he witnessed. He discovered that applied science, creativity and imagination can be tools that vastly improve lives.

Susan Amrose, a lecturer in the department of civil and environmental engineering, has worked with Gadgil since 2006 and said Gadgil’s devotion to solving existing social problems helped shape her own research endeavors.

“He’s focused on making research that’s really directed towards impact,” Amrose said.

Caroline Delaire, a doctorate student in the department of civil and environmental engineering, also affirmed Gadgil’s focus on making a difference.

“It’s something that Ashok also hammers to us — you should always do work that has impact,” Delaire said. “All your research questions should be geared at providing an answer in the field.”

Gadgil’s dedication also led him to found Potential Energy, a nonprofit organization based in Oakland that brings technologies such as efficient cookstoves to those in need. According to Potential Energy’s associate director Debra Stein, almost 38,000 stoves have been distributed as of January, with an estimated 15,000 more to be provided by the end of the year.

The National Inventors Hall of Fame, founded by the National Council of Intellectual Property Law Associations and the United States Patent and Trademark Office, is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to honor inventors whose innovations have strongly benefited the world. There are 15 inductees this year, including Charles Hull, the inventor of the 3-D printer, and Richard DiMarchi, the inventor of Humalog, an insulin used daily by millions of diabetes patients.

Contact Jean Lee at jeanlee@dailycal.org and follow her on Twitter @missjeanlee.

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