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UT Arlington receives Grand Challenges Explorations grant for research in global health

Two UT Arlington engineers will use a new Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation grant to update an ancient method of evaporation to cool vaccines and medicine that must be shipped to remote parts of the world without ready access to electricity.

The University of Texas at Arlington announced that it is a Grand Challenges Explorations winner, an initiative funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Seung Mun You and Hyejin Moon, two Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering faculty members, are using aluminum and nanopore technology to update an evaporative process known as "zeer cooling." They will pursue an innovative global health and development research project, titled "High Performance Portable Evaporative Refrigeration for Vaccine Delivery."

"We have an entire population that isn't getting the proper medicine and vaccines because of where they are located," said You, a professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering in UT Arlington's College of Engineering. "We will use nanotechnology to circulate water that will keep the vaccine cargo cool through evaporation."

Grand Challenges Explorations funds individuals worldwide who are taking innovative approaches to some of the world's toughest and persistent global health and development challenges. GCE invests in the early stages of bold ideas that have real potential to solve the problems people in the developing world face every day. You's project is one of more than 80 Grand Challenges Explorations Round 9 grants announced recently by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

"Investments in innovative global health research are already paying off," said Chris Wilson, director of Global Health Discovery and Translational Sciences at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. "We continue to be impressed by the novelty and innovative spirit of Grand Challenges Explorations projects and are enthusiastic about this exciting research. These investments hold real potential to yield new solutions to improve the health of millions of people in the developing world, and ensure that everyone has the chance to live a healthy productive life."

To receive funding, You and other Grand Challenges Explorations Round 9 winners demonstrated in a two-page online application a creative idea in one of five critical global heath and development topic areas that included agriculture development, immunization and communications.

Zeer technology has been used for thousands of years to keep produce and items that need refrigeration cool in places where electricity is non-existent.

"Think of it as a fridge for your picnic," Moon said.

Typically, two clay pots are used in the zeer process. Holes in the bottom of the pots are plugged, and sand is placed in the larger clay pot as a base. The smaller clay pot is then placed inside the larger one, and sand is placed as a layer between the pots. Then water is poured in that sand. The evaporation process causes the smaller pot to cool.

The traditional zeer process has several limitations, You said. The water added to the sand causes the pots to be very heavy. Water must be added continually to keep contents in the smaller pot cool. And the process only works well in arid, hot conditions.

You's technology would use lightweight aluminum materials rather than clay and sand. Nanostructures would be networked on the inside of the outer aluminum container. Those nanostructures would move the water around, causing vaporization and cooling the inside container.

Moon, an assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, said the inside container of their system can chill to 40 degrees Fahrenheit (6 degrees Celsius), cool enough to ensure that vaccines and medicines are preserved and can arrive safely at the far-flung reaches of the world.

Engineering Dean Jean-Pierre Bardet said the team's work holds global promise.

"It could be a game-changer," Bardet said. "Evaporative cooling is not only smart, it also has a sustainable element to it. Anything we can use that will cool but use less energy is a smarter way to go."


Contact: Herb Booth
University of Texas at Arlington

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