VAXXWAGON — a ‘No ice, No electricity’ frugal vaccine transport system

Interview with Anurudh Ganesan, Inventor

Anurudh Ganesan is 15-year-old high school student, his invention, the VAXXWAGON, is a portable refrigeration system that enables doctors to transport vaccines safely and effectively. Anurudh won the LEGO Education Builder Award, at the fifth annual Google Science Fair, a global competition and celebration of innovation.

The VAXXWAGON’s “No ice, No electricity” vaccine transport system, costs less than USD 100, and can keep a consistent temperature for hours while being pulled by people or animals.

Google Science Fair VAXXWAGON

Q: What was the motivation to build VAXXWAGON?

A: My motivation to build VAXXWAGON was personal. When I was an infant, my grandparents had to carry me ten miles to a remote location in Southern India, my birthplace, to vaccinate me. When they got there, the vaccines were useless because they were exposed to high temperatures without being refrigerated. After spending a year in India, my parents brought me to the US.

Q: How serious is the problem of last mile vaccine delivery globally?

A: After my parents told me the story of how I almost did not receive a basic polio vaccine. I was determined to do some research to see if this problem is still prevalent in the world. According to UNICEF, 1.5 million children die annually from vaccine-preventable diseases. This can mean that the vaccines are not being properly refrigerated when they are being transported and/or the places that the children are living in are remote.

Source: Google Science Fair — Anurudh Ganesan

Q: How did your journey as an innovator start?

A: When I was five, my dad and I were refuelling our car at a nearby gas station. I asked my dad then, “can we invent a self powered vehicle that doesn’t need gas?” My dad never forgot that conversation and inspired me to learn everything I could about self-generating power. I’ve participated in several science fairs, starting from second grade until now, researching diversified topics from self-generating power to biometrics and public health. Science allows me to dream, imagine, explore and question unknown things. This creative freedom allows me to be limitless in my thinking!

Q: Can you please tell us about VAXXWAGON?

A: VAXXWAGON uses no ice and no electricity to provide refrigeration for vaccines while storing and transporting vaccines to remote clinics. It’s like your refrigerator at home, without a plug! by utilizing the turning of the wheel, this system can provide refrigeration for vaccines while in transit for its life saving mission.

Anurudh Ganesan with the VAXXWAGON prototype

Q: What is the science behind your “No ice, No electricity” vaccine transport system?

A: It works with wheel-powered refrigeration. It simply converts the mechanical energy from the turning of the wheel to thermal energy in a custom cold chamber, where the vaccines are stored, which can keep vaccines cold for up to 16 hours when only powered for a total of 8 hours in a day. This is due to phase change material that releases cooling even when the system is not being powered.

This system combines thermodynamics with mechanical engineering to create a life-saving system.

Q: Who were your scientific, medical, and personal, mentors during the project?

A: Currently I am working with scientists from leading Pharmaceutical industries and also Professors from John Hopkins University, University of Pennsylvania, and University of Maryland to finish development of VAXXWAGON. My other mentors include my parents and grandparents since they supported me every step of the way.

Q: How long does it take to build a VAXXWAGON and how much does it cost?

A: It costs $100 to build VAXXWAGON and it takes around five hours to build one prototype. It took me eight months of research and development to build a functioning prototype.

Q: What were the challenges you faced while developing VAXXWAGON?

A: Initially it was challenging to learn the science behind how a refrigeration system works. The thermodynamic topics left me confused on how to advance with VAXXWAGON. My mentors helped me to understand these concepts and also taught me the importance of perseverance.

Another important hurdle I had to overcome was ensuring that the system was truly capable of operating without electricity or ice, the heart of my system. I had many challenges in ensuring that the system was capable of operating by bicycle or moped.

I utilized a treadmill to test VAXXWAGON at a typical bike speed and distance for last-leg vaccine transportation. Over 200 hours of testing validated that the system was capable of maintaining the 2–8ºC range at an average speed of ~12–13kmph for more than ten hours. This was a major milestone for me.

Q: Are you conducting any VAXXWAGON trials in India or other parts of the world? What is the feedback?

A: Not yet. I am working on that aspect when I finish building the final edition of VAXXWAGON by the end of March 2017.

Q: How was your experience at the Google Science Fair?

A: It was great! I was inspired by the all of the other finalists there as well. I even got a chance to meet Sergei Brin (one of the founders of Google)!

Q: What next for Anurudh Ganesan, the innovator?

A: I want to become a social entrepreneur, a person who invests in ideas and ventures that can benefit people who are less fortunate than we are. I’m happy to say that I will continue my dreams at the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania! My dream is to see VAXXWAGON out in the field saving lives.

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