BYU professor calls for industrial revolutions in the developing world

Today, in some parts of the world cell phones are more accessible than toilets. Not only that, but some football stadiums in the U.S. use more power than can be produced by the entire country of Liberia, and 73 seconds of water pouring through a low-flow shower head uses up the daily clean water available per person in Rwanda. 

BYU mechanical engineering professor and Fullbright scholar Christopher Mattson has been working in conjunction with MIT professor Amos Winter to understand why these problems still exist in developing countries. In a journal article written for the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME), Mattson calls for industrial revolutions in order to solve the persisting problems of health, water and energy in developing countries. Mattson writes that while solutions to these problems have existed in developed countries for decades, they have not been adapted for the developing world. The reason? Differences in culture, environment, technology and socioeconomics.

“We need technological revolutions rather than incremental change,” Mattson declares in the article.

To demonstrate his point, Mattson gives the example of providing reliable sanitation to a village. The technology has existed for years, yet there are still many countries that go without it. He points out that even though there are pumps and pipes available to create a system, a country might not have sustainable power to run it, perhaps they have no way to reliably make repairs when something goes wrong, or maybe they simply can’t afford it.

“The lack of knowledge has planted seeds for failure, such as solving the wrong problem, believing that the problem is simple and that a solution is intuitively obvious, incorrectly assuming that there is no money to be made from poor people or that a western solution may be easily adapted or naturally trickle down to the developing world,” the article states.

Mattson and Winter go on to explore the ways that different sub disciplines of mechanical engineering can service developing parts of the world. Design theory methodology is well suited to understand different cultures and break down the barrier of misunderstanding. Machine design can reverse the disparity between rich and poor with mechanization tailored to the needs of developing countries. Design optimization can focus on creating a better product at a cost affordable to poor countries. Uncertainty quantification can help turn the unknowns of a country into the parameters needed to create something which would satisfy the needs of that country.

Mattson sees a lot of potential for mechanical engineers to make a difference in developing countries. From actually creating a product which can be produced and distributed to simply researching an area that is lacking in modern technology, Mattson outlines many opportunities to become involved in the revolutions that must occur to solve the challenges plaguing developing countries.

The full article Why the Developing World Needs Mechanical Design can be found here

Along with being a Fullbright Scholar, Mattson has also received the National Science Foundation’s CAREER Award as well as the 2012 Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers. 

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