“Sustainable Development: Technology and Beyond”​ — VigyanShaala @ UPES, Dehradun, Uttarakhand, India

VigyanShaala International
9 min readMar 6, 2019

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“Without young people, the Sustainable Development Goals will not be achieved” — Amina Mohammed — UN Deputy Secretary-General

VigyanShaala, with its aim to introduce and sensitize youth about the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (#UNSDGs) conceptualized the workshop ‘Sustainable Development: Technology and Beyond’. This workshop aimed to explore two important questions central to nearly every major challenge and opportunity the world faces today — access to clean Water and Energy, and encouraging young students to think about creative ways to solve these challenges. We were very kindly hosted by Dr. Abhishek Mishra , Assistant Professor or Physics and Dr. Ugur Guven, Professor and Director, International Relations at the University of Petroleum and Energy Studies (UPES), Dehradun on the 8th of January 2019. A team of researchers based at the University of Cambridge, Waterscope, (a Cambridge University spinout), Oxford University, Council on Energy Environment and Water (CEEW) and University of Chicago’s Water to Cloud project joined us as facilitators. This workshop also provided a platform for the faculties from the School of Natural Sciences, UPES to engage with researchers from these leading organizations and discuss plans for future collaborations.

Introductory meeting of team VigyanShaala, WaterScope and the speakers with the heads of various schools and the international relations team at UPES

The day began with an introductory meeting with the heads of various school and the head of international relations at UPES. All the invited guests gave a brief introduction to their activities and the scope of further collaborations. We then proceeded to formally start the workshop with students. We were greeted by a room full of enthusiastic bunch of students (c. 60) primarily undergraduates in their first or second year of studies and a couple of masters and PhD students.

A room full of enthusiastic participants

The first session of the workshop focused on water, divided into two parts — a hands-on session on water quality testing led by a team of researchers from WaterScope and University of Cambridge, UK and an interactive lecture ‘ Whose Rivers are These?’ by Priyank Hirani, Team Lead, University of Chicago’s water to cloud project. For a hands on experience of the water testing units and assembling 3-d printed equipment students were grouped into groups of 8–10 each.

Participants examining a 3-d printed OpenFlexure Microscope

In September 2015, the UN adopted “Clean Water and Sanitation” as one of the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals. Access to clean and safe water sources is central to this vision. In India, about 70 per cent of surface water is not fit for consumption. This is the water that the poorest and most marginalized people have to drink and use for their daily needs. Every day, almost 40 billion liters of wastewater enters rivers and other water bodies, and even percolates into the ground, with only a tiny fraction being adequately treated. This comes with huge ecological and economic costs.

Participants engaged in water testing using WaterScope’s low cost kits.

What cannot be measured, cannot be improved! Contaminated drinking water is a global problem with over 800 million people lacking access to safe drinking water. Each day over 2,000 people will die of a diarrheal related disease from bacteria. Current testing systems are slow, complex and expensive. WaterScope, which is based at the University of Cambridge is trying to change this by providing a rapid, affordable bacteria test that can be used by anyone, independent of resource availability.

Alfred assisting participants during the hands-on water testing
Engaged participants during the hands-on water testing session

Water Testing for ALL — During the hands on workshop two groups of participants (10–12 students each) started with the low cost water testing unit developed by WaterScope, one group with the commercial water testing unit and two groups with the assembly of 3-d printed lab equipment.

Alex demonstrating a commercial water testing unit

Once done the groups were cycled. Students learnt how testing for bacteria is currently performed in the field using commercial mobile testing systems. These systems are only used by experienced technicians due to the need to have training in sterile handling. Students also used the new system being developed by WaterScope, which is simpler to use with the aim that with minimal training users can test water. During the workshop participants provided feedback on the usability and potential for adoption in low resource settings where the need to know the quality of water is most urgent.

Sammy and Tian assisting participants in assembling various 3-d printed lab equipment
Participants trying to assemble a 3-d printed OpenFlexure Microscope

3D Printing Workshop — The aim of the workshop was to engage researchers and students to share ideas on developing 3D printed laboratory equipment and seek ways of collaborating on such projects. The long-term aim is to produce low-cost, high performance equipment such as a lab-grade microscopes for those in low resource institutions and communities that would otherwise not have access to these.

Followup questions from a young student
Assembling 3-d printed instruments

The team demonstrated assembly of a 3-d printed OpenFlexure Microscope, which is a 3D printable microscope, including a precise mechanical stage to move the sample and focus the optics that can be operated by a Raspberry Pi. There are many different options for the optics, ranging from a webcam lens to a 100x, oil immersion objective with full automation. This microscope has proved to be a very useful tool for diagnosing diseases and a very useful teaching aid with communities in Africa. Discussions at the workshop focused on usage of such a microscope, ease of production and assembly and other 3D printed equipment that can be locally made that can usefully be deployed in different parts of the world.

Priyank during his interactive talk ‘ Whose Rivers are These?’

‘ Whose Rivers are These?’ — This thought provoking lecture by Priyank took the audience on an interactive journey exploring the current health of our water resources. River Water Quality in India is mainly measured using the grab-sampling method. This gives the water quality parameters for a single point on the river with limited scope of analysis.

Very engaged audience during Priyank’s interactive talk ‘ Whose Rivers are These?’

Priyank discussed an innovative technique to monitor and map water bodies using portable, time-stamped and geo-tagged cyber-physical sensors which are attached to a boat to collect multiple data points for various water-quality parameters across a river stretch. Water-to-Cloud is an initiative to monitor and map water quality of India’s rivers through powerful data visualizations in the form of heatmaps which can be used to dynamically monitor, predict, and regulate water quality. Improving the quality of measurements and providing real time monitoring of long stretches of water bodies can vastly improve regulation and enforcement. This initiative shows that sensors can be used to collect real-time data on long stretches of rivers to provide authorities with options to enhance effectiveness of various policy options to reduce water pollution. In addition, it can provide data to correlate with socio-economic indicators to study the economic costs of water pollution.

Alfred assisting students to conduct water testing using WaterScope kits
Dr Nalin Patel assisting students to conduct water testing using WateScope kits

The second part of the workshop focused on Energy . This section opened with Mr Saurabh Tripathi ( Research Analyst , Council on Energy, Environment and Water), talking about their work on ‘ Access to Clean Cooking Energy and Electricity, Survey of States 2018 ’ and the associated challenges of Energy policy research in India.

Saurabh during his lecture Energy Access: Policy, Challenges, Opportunities

Energy Access: Policy, Challenges, Opportunities — The objective of this intriguing talk was to introduce students of economics, law and management at UPES to careers in public policy. Few typical policy challenges were discussed in order to better contextualise academic research in the broader context of public policy in India. This helped them picture the relevance of research projects that they were currently working on, and how they could be approached from multiple perspectives — which was useful to make the point that students from any academic discipline can find interesting work in public policy because it relates to the efficient utilisation of resources for social good.

Students were then introduced to CEEW’s “arc of learning”, a seven-stage guide on how public policy challenges should be approached by researchers. The seven stages are (i) to identify a question, (ii) to conceptualise a method of inquiry, (iii) to understand through rigorous analysis, (iv) to convene peers in an exchange of ideas, (v) to communicate to all relevant stakeholders, (vi) to support policy processes as necessary, and finally, (vii) to reflect and learn from failures.

Finally, in public policy, one need not restrict themselves to the traditional research approach; it is important to anticipate the kind of support that decision-makers are likely to require in a few months or years, and work towards enabling that. Not always does the output of a research project have to be a paper or report; at times it may be a data visualisation tool for policymakers, or an implementation pilot to test out a few policy options. Flexibility is key.

This was explained to students by introducing them to the work that the Energy Access team at CEEW undertakes. It includes data analysis, programme evaluation and on-ground pilots across household, community, and productive applications of energy. Three projects were discussed: (i) an evaluation of the impact of solar-power systems on health outcomes in power-deficit primary healthcare centres in Chhattisgarh, (ii) an online decision-support tool to help policymakers and financiers make better decisions around the financing of solar pumps, and, (iii) a primary data collection exercise to better understand the state of access to electricity and clean cooking energy in rural India — going beyond simplistic aggregate measures to gain a holistic picture of the energy situation.

Nanotechnology, Device Fabrication, Energy Based Devices — Dr Vijay Venugopalan , co-founder VIGYANshaala , Post-doctoral associate Cambridge Display Technology, through an interactive lecture introduced the audience to latest advances in new age Flexible Optoelectronic Devices (Solar Cells, LEDs, Detectors) and Flexible Electronic Circuits.

Vijay engaging with students on new age plastic electronics

The interactive session introduced students to cutting edge research in nanotechnology based devices and detailed a few processes of fabrication. The session challenged student’s imagination to comprehend the logic behind industrial processes of a clean room, vacuum deposition, etching, large area printing of LEDs, flexible devices and more. Videos and images provided a realistic introduction of the lives of scientists at top international laboratories. The students realized what it takes to manufacture the latest devices they hold in their hands and the method and challenges for bringing in innovation. The students were piqued, as the session involved into more of a Q&A session with the students wanting to grasp more and more of how the nanotech. devices around them are manufactured. In this discussion, the challenges for new inventions to enter the market were discussed, where market forces, Govt. and policy forces, regional manufacturing imbalances and were discussed. The interaction with the students continued even after the session, demonstrating the curiosity and determination of few students towards STEM.

Dr Abhishek Mishra concluding the student sessions and opening the faculty discussion
Faculties of the school of Natural Sciences interacting with the speakers
Faculty interaction

Dr Darshana Joshi (PhD University of Cambridge) and Dr Kavita Pandey post-doctoral research associate at the University of Oxford and Fulbright Fellow at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA lead the discussion with the faculties of the School of Natural Science, UPES. This hour and half long discussion was aimed at facilitating and exploring potential for longer-term collaborations . WaterScope will now facilitate housing a number of their water quality testing kits at UPES which can be utilized by interested students and faculties for their projects. UPES and WaterScope are also exploring possibilities of long term student exchange, remote mentoring of students undertaking projects on these kits and writing joint projects for research support. We at VigyanShaala, hope that we will be able to facilitate and foster many more collaborations like this in the future.

Phew… Conclusion to a fun filled day of learning!

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VigyanShaala International

Equipping youth with quality STEM skills through project based learning, continuous training and mentoring to enable social and transformational change.