Film Reviews
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Hop On, Wash Off


A refurbished bus provides mobile showers for the homeless.

Imagine having to sign up and wait on a list to take a shower. Or using your local library’s bathroom to wash up. In San Francisco, there are approximately 7,000 homeless people and only eight facilities with showers (most of which are concentrated in the downtown area). Recognizing this problem, and believing that access to sanitation is a human right, an organization called Lava Mae (which means ‘wash me’ in Spanish) has created a mobile shower bus outfitted with two showers, changing areas, and even skylights. The bus has a hot water system installed and hooks up to fire hydrants for a water supply.

Founder Doniece Sandoval worked with designers to outfit the bus and is also collaborating with local organizations to see how the bus can be utilized most effectively. She says, “I just thought if you can put gourmet food on wheels and take it anywhere, why not showers and toilets?” Lava Mae is hoping to develop a fleet of four buses by spring of 2015 which they project would provide about 2,000 showers a week. Sandoval adds, “Lava Mae’s not about ending homelessness. What we are about is providing hygiene because we believe that hygiene brings dignity. And dignity opens up opportunity.”   

Photo by Waleed Alzuhair, licensed under Creative Commons.

Read and Repel


A newspaper becomes a bug repellent using citronella infused ink.

It may be hard to believe that tiny insects cause over 1 million human deaths a year. But the transmittance of diseases such as malaria and dengue from a mosquito bite can have dire consequences, especially for those with limited resources in developing countries. While high-tech solutions such as genetically engineering mosquitoes to make them sterile are being developed, there is another more natural method that has also garnered attention. Last year in Sri Lanka, over 30,000 people contracted dengue, leading it to be deemed an epidemic. Mawbima, a popular national newspaper in the country wanted to bring attention to the issue and did so by developing mosquito repellent paper. By mixing the printing ink with citronella, the newspapers that were distributed became multi-purpose.   

Although the newspaper has only done one run with the special ink so far, it saw its sales on that day increase by 30 percent and was able to reach hundreds of thousands of people. Mawbima has also used this strategy at bus stops where they have coated large-sized ads with the citronella repellent. By integrating everyday objects and experiences, this strategy has the potential to be applied in a multitude of situations worldwide.

Photo by J. Ingles-Le Nobel, licensed under Creative Commons.

A Gadget to Help Your Green Thumb


Edyn Garden Sensor notifies gardeners about water and soil conditions.

The Edyn Garden Sensor has the ability to relay real-time data about the status of your garden and can even suggest which plants will grow the best based on information it gathers from the soil. The sensor was created by Jason Aramburu, a soil scientist who has worked in Panama and Africa, and is striving to integrate technology with sustainability. The device is solar-powered and can measure about 250 square feet once it’s placed in the ground. It also has Wi-Fi connectivity which can be used with an accompanying app.

Aramburu also sees larger functions for the gadget – by supplying information about water, he hopes that less water will be wasted. Additionally, all of the data submitted will eventually create a bigger picture about what grows best in certain regions, especially if farmers start using it and a wide area of land is assessed by the device. A Kickstarter campaign is raising money to begin manufacturing the sensors.

Photo by hockadilly, licensed under Creative Commons.

Another Reason Not to Judge a Book by its Cover


The 20 pages in The Drinkable Book could save many lives.

Chemist Theresa Dankovich wanted to tackle a global problem from which 3.4 million people die annually – lack of clean water. Since 2008 she has been experimenting with a special type of paper which has silver nanoparticles in it. The paper is formulated to act similarly to a filter and 99.9 percent of bacteria is killed (making it comparable to tap water in the U.S.). 

In a collaboration between Dankovich, Brian Gartside, a designer, and the organization WATERisLIFE, The Drinkable Book was developed. The book consists of 20 filter pages which are a millimeter thick and can last up to a month. The paper can be produced for about 10 cents a page. Each leaf also has information on clean water and sanitation tips. The text is printed with nontoxic ink and will be in different languages depending on where the books are distributed. The cover of the book serves as the filter box. Dankovich commented, “Our main goal is to reduce the spread of diarrheal diseases, which result from drinking water that's been contaminated with things like E. coli and cholera and typhoid. And we think we can help prevent some of these illnesses from even happening."

So far the paper has been tested in South Africa and Dankovich hopes that it can be commercially available by next year.

Photo by zaveqna, licensed under Creative Commons.

Solar Roadways: A Path to Renewable Energy

solar roadways

Modular solar panels will capture the sun's rays as we drive, bike, and play.

One of the latest innovations in renewable energy is solar roadways, an idea conceived by Julie and Scott Brusaw. The roadways are constructed out of modular solar panels that can be installed on the ground – from highways to playgrounds to parking lots. Not only do they have the potential to capture the sun’s rays to convert into electricity, but they also were designed with LED lights that make road lines and a heating mechanism that will keep them clear of snow and ice.

There are still many considerations for the implementation of this technology – from the cost for covering large swaths of roadways to the durability and upkeep of the modular tiles to their effectiveness when covered by track marks left from tires. However, the group has raised over $1.9 million in an IndieGoGo campaign, built a prototype parking lot, and collaborated on the project's development with the U.S. Federal Highways Administration, which means these roadways could become a reality in the near future.

Photo by Solar Roadways

LooRewards Brings Sanitary Toilets to India


Meet the “PoopGuy” bringing sanitation to the urban poor in India.

When Swapnil Chaturvedi returned home to India from the U.S. in 2007, he was appalled by the lack of dignity and sanitation afforded by the country’s dirty, under-ventilated toilets. According to Chaturvedi, 60 percent of Indians defecate in the open due to a lack of sanitary toilets or latrines. This realization prompted him to abandon his engineering job and dedicate himself to creating a sanitation movement that would allow women like his young daughter to comfortably use public toilets. “We can live without Facebook, we can live without our smartphones, but we cannot live without relieving ourselves,” he said.

In 2011, Chaturvedi, who is also known as “PoopGuy,” founded Samagra Sanitation with a grant from the Gates Foundation. He is the “Chief Toilet Cleaner” and President of the company, which aims to provide “awesome sanitation services to the urban poor” in Pune, India. His focus is not only on the technology of sanitation, but the psychology; his LooRewards program aims to educate locals and motivate them to change their hygiene habits by offering incentives for using the toilets. Samagra recently started an Indiegogo campaign which hopes to raise $50,000 to bring clean toilets to 50,000 people.

Photo by the Gates Foundation.

Suspended Animation is Within Our Grasp

Science fiction becomes reality as doctors prepare to bring suspended animation to human patients.

The typical high-trauma patient enters the emergency room with less than a 7 percent chance of survival. Constraints of time are the biggest problem— doctors often have mere minutes to stop a patient’s bleeding and restart their heart while struggling against potentially fatal difficulties. However, a team of doctors at Pittsburgh’s UPMC Presbyterian Hospital have been granted permission to begin human trials on a procedure that could give doctors hours of much-needed extra time. After successful attempts on lab animals between 2002 and 2010, doctors are ready to bring “emergency preservation and resuscitation” to human patients.

“We are suspending life,” explains Samuel Tisherman, who is leading the trial, “but we don't like to call it suspended animation because it sounds like science fiction.” The process involves replacing a patient’s blood with a cold saline solution that rapidly cools the body to around 50 degrees Fahrenheit, stopping all cellular activity and rendering the patient clinically dead. The doctors have about two hours to repair the patient’s injuries and pump the blood back into their body to bring them back to life. This procedure will initially be tested on ten patients with traumatic injuries who do not respond to standard resuscitation.

Photo by Bolshakov, licensed under Creative Commons.

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