Tikaro Interactive iron developer Will Ronco’s sister, Amy Smith, is a Nerd Hero. That’s completely, 100% literally true; Amy runs the D-Lab at MIT, where she teaches students the principles of “appropriate design” — things that are useful, even life-saving, in developing areas, are simple and cheap to make, and can manufactured locally.
I can’t say enough about how wonderful this program is. One of my favorite things about the D-lab is it’s not all “oh you poor, sad slobs in developing countries let’s airdrop some of our MAGIC MACHINERY onto you.” There’s no shortage of ingenuity and skill in the developing world. What Amy and her students bring is Big-Ticket engineering prowess and scientific education. They augment, analyze, and teach, working with local scientists, mechanics, and inventors. They help put into place sustainable, locally-powered Awesome Machinery and engineering practices. Like a water-purification system made from toilet parts that titrates just the correct amount of chlorine to a village’s water supply. Or a hand-powered charcoal briquette maker for getting heat from sugarcane. Or a “bucket of wax” technique for incubating AIDS tests. There are lots of case studies on their website.
Here’s a (regrettably shaky) YouTube video where Amy talks to the Appropriate Infrastructure Development Group about her recent trip to Peru:
Here are some (much less shaky) videos of her accepting a Popular Mechanics Leadership Award last week. If you have a minute, go check them out!