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Curriculum Development: Developing World Technologies

The ICMR is supporting the development of undergraduate curricula on design and deployment of appropriate technology for the developing world. Our efforts are coordinated by Profs. Mark Bryden and Richard LeSar at Iowa State University and Prof. Roy Smith at UC Santa Barbara.

Engineering will increasingly be used in an environment constrained by challenges arising from energy and environmental concerns. New technology will need to be appropriate for that constrained environment. The notion of appropriate technology can best be seen in the developing world, which faces tremendous challenges that will likely worsen with global climate change and diminishing resources. Our standard approach to technological development, and to the education of scientists and engineers in general,is not focussed on how to create technology that actually will be successful in the developing world, i.e., technology that is appropriate to the environmental, cultural and economic situation for which it is intended.



This concept of appropriate technology was introduced over thirty years ago by E. F. Schumacher [1] and has become the basis for how many approach the developing world. There are many definitions of appropriate technology. Perhaps the clearest is that appropriate technology is the simplest level of technology that can effectively achieve the intended purpose in a particular location. Good examples can be found in the many projects thoughout the world to develop, for example, efficient and safe stoves.

Materials research has a significant role to play in these technologies. For example, the development of alternative fuels from local materials (jatropha nut oil for biofuel, or local biomass based alternatives to charcoal are examples) has an immediate impact. Solid-state lighting and photovoltaic systems can advance the quality of life in remote areas. Thermoelectric systems may generate useful power or light from thermal sources that would otherwise be wasted. In many developing world applications the competing technologies and available infrastructure differ significantly from those in the developed world. This requires an awareness of the needs and capabilities of the developing world and this is not something that is typically addressed in a research environment. At the same time it also opens up opportunities; technologies that may not be competitive in the developed world may find application in a developing world context.

[1] Small is Beautiful, 25th Anniversary Edition: Economics as if People Mattered, (Hartley and Marks, Vancouver, BC, Canada, 2000).

Undergraduate design classes

Our challenge in the University is to educate students to think differently about science and technology, i.e., to consider not just the technological details, but issues such as sustainability, the degree to which technology can be maintained and built locally, etc. To address this challenge, the Mechanical Engineering and the Materials Science and Engineering Departments at Iowa State University have begun to develop a focus on appropriate technology as part of the undergraduate and graduate curricula. To date, a design course on the topic is being taught at the undergraduate level in Mechanical Engineering.

The ICMR is supporting the development of a integrated Materials and Engineering design curricula on the topic of appropriate technology. Materials curriculum development is taking place at Iowa State University (ISU); extensions to electrical, chemical and mechanical engineering are a collaboration between ISU and UCSB. Our long-term goal is to create web-based curricula that will be available to the wider engineering community.

In May 2008 10 undergraduates from Iowa State University will take a field course in the village of Nana-Kenieba in the sub-Saharan African nation of Mali. The purpose of the course is to introduce students to the ideas behind how to engineer and introduce appropriate technology in developing countries. The course will be conducted through the use of on-the-ground projects, developed in design classes in the Mechanical and Materials departments at Iowa State and then implemented in the field by the students in collaboration with the people of the village.

Seminar series

The program will kick-off at UCSB with an undergraduate seminar series in Spring 2008. The seminar series will raise awareness of the issues involved in appropriate technology for the developing world and serve as a source of background material for the design courses.

The topics of the seminar will include: Microcredit and microfinance; Efficient lighting; Agricultural problems and technology; Water technology; Remote wireless systems; Developing world engineering case studies; and Renewable energy.

The website for the course can be found here.



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