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High-tech engineers export low-tech solutions to developing countries

SPIE members support Engineers Without Borders

BELLINGHAM, WA, USA - 17 March 2008 - Optics and photonics engineers - experts in highly sophisticated technologies - are applying low-tech solutions to improve quality of life in developing countries worldwide. Projects are designed and implemented by chapters of the international volunteer network Engineers Without Borders (EWB).

Dr. John Shinn of Engineers Without Borders describes the group's activities during a luncheon honoring SPIE Fellows in San Jose, CA, last January.

SPIE, an international optics and photonics professional society, and its members help support EWB financially and participate as chapter members. EWB's student and professional chapters represent a wide range of engineering disciplines in three dozen countries.

Projects employ low-tech, high-impact, sustainable solutions to problems such as providing clean water supplies, irrigation systems, sanitation systems, and electricity, and enhance life in other ways as well.

For example, young girls in Mali who once spent their days carrying cans of clean water to and from remote sources now spend their days in school, said Richard Youngworth, an optical engineer active in an EWB chapter in Boulder, CO, and chair of SPIE's Membership Committee.

"In Nepal, we are working in a village where cooking is done inside," Youngworth said. "However, the smoke is killing people. We are working on a clean stove to replace the type currently used."

Sustainability is central to the EWB approach, as is employing local labor in the project. "We don't want projects to break down after a few years and not be fixable," Youngworth said. "We use local labor so there is a vested interest and local companies are aware of the project."

SPIE President Kevin Harding and CEO Eugene Arthurs gave EWB-USA technical advisor John Shinn a $5,000 donation from SPIE during a conference in San Jose, CA, in January. Shinn, a chemical engineer and senior staff advisor on global issues for Chevron, told the SPIE audience that more than 1.2 billion people in the world lack clean water supplies, and an average of 35,000 children die of hunger every day. For more information, visit http://www.ewb-international.org/.

About SPIE

SPIE is an international optics and photonics society founded in 1955 advancing an interdisciplinary approach to the science and application of light. Serving the interests of its more than 188,000 active constituents representing 138 different countries, SPIE acts as a catalyst for collaboration among technical disciplines for information exchange, continuing education, publishing opportunities, patent precedent, and career and professional growth. As the organizer and sponsor of approximately 25 major conferences and education programs annually in North America, Europe, Asia, and the South Pacific, SPIE provides publishing, speaking, and learning opportunities on emerging technologies. For more information, visit SPIE.org.