TED: Ideas Worth Spreading

Amy Smith: Simple designs to save a life

This TED talk was highly inspiring. Albeit not delivered as well as one would hope, the speaker was clearly highly intelligent, advanced in her field, and ready to make a joke at her own expense to remind us that MIT professors are human, just like the rest of us. Easy to follow, Smith’s idea involves creating a cheaper and better fuel source for indoor cooking in developing areas. As an issue I – and I’m sure many – never even had on our radar of “global problems,” this problem of smoke poisoning as a result of improper cooking techniques was a surprise to me. However, it kills over a million children a year. Those of us living in comfortable homes never realize that most do not have the proper resources to cook food without also poisoning its benefactors with the smoke from the primitive set-up. With widely available starting resources and relatively simple processing, people may now be able to create charcoal “briquettes” which do not produce harmful smoke, but do an even better job than previous fuel sources of providing long-lasting and effective fuel for cooking. Smith’s invention is simple yet revolutionary, a testament to her students’ and her hard work in the field to develop a solution to a little-known problem. All of us, with proper research and dedication, could most likely create similar solutions to seemingly nonexistent problems, if we simply took the time to pause, look beyond the smoke, and realize the issues that lay beyond it. Very little effort – in the grand scheme of things – can often solve very large issues.

Ludwick Marishane: A bath without water

A 5-minute video: a huge impact. The first and most impressive thing you notice about the speaker is that he appears to be a teenager. The more he speaks, the more you learn about his upbringing in rural Africa and how, with just the use of a Nokia phone, he was able to invent a cleansing gel for those without access to water to bathe, increasing hygiene and decreasing the risk to contract dirt- or bacteria-borne diseases. Such a young person at such odds, with very few resources available and no support in the initial stages of production, was still able to invent a revolutionary product. Marishane’s mention of only having taken a high school chemistry class truly demonstrates his intelligence and initiative. Armed with only basic knowledge of chemistry, Marishane took it upon himself to do more research using just a phone and to concoct a successful formula. In such a short video, it is difficult to understand exactly what the formula is, but it is not necessary to in order to still comprehend the significant world impact of this invention. Those without access to clean water – or only enough to use for solely drinking and eating purposes – will now be fully capable of bathing themselves, protecting from a vast array of fully preventable diseases. We have seen in the past that building wells and water pipe systems does not work in the long run due to the upkeep and maintenance required. This solution makes much more sense until the bigger problem can be properly and permanently addressed. In addition, the process of using the cleansing gel saves a huge amount of water, addressing two issues simultaneously: water scarcity and poor hygiene. Marishane has truly created a revolutionary and life-changing product.

Marc Koska: 1.3m reasons to re-invent the syringe

This was one of the most shocking and enlightening TED Talks I’ve ever seen. As do most people, I knew that dirty needles were a huge problem relating to HIV, especially in developing countries. However, Koska’s facts regarding the extensive reuse of syringes highly exceeded my initial understanding. There are over 80 billion unsafe injections a year and 1.3 million deaths a year from the use of unsterilized syringes. Brand new syringes are extremely cheap – costing only 5 cents per syringe – and widely available, meaning that the problem of HIV contraction is almost entirely preventable. The problem lies both with syringe sellers and doctors themselves. Children in developing countries often search through trash dumps for used syringes, cleaning and repackaging them in order to sell them back for more than an original and new syringe costs in the first place. This means that most syringes in local markets are used and therefore unusable. Also, so-called “doctors” are certainly not taking the proper precautions in the field, using the same syringe twenty or thirty times throughout the hospital for different patients. The problem with syringes is that they cannot be properly sanitized and should not ever be reused; this is why they are made so cheaply. Koska’s invention to combat this extensive issue is simple but highly effective – his syringe has a mechanism in place that causes the device to break when a user attempts to extract the plunger after initial use. This will render used syringes completely useless for future injections, physically halting the process that leads to so many deaths per year. Simple but effective inventions such as these are truly inspiring, prompting many to realize that many problems are incredibly preventable, even by the most basic of innovations.


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