Home' Technology Review : September October 2006 Contents TECHNOLOGY REVIEW /
FEATURE STORY 63
About 1,000 fetuses die every
year in the United States
when their mothers are injured
in car crashes. But little was
known about how automotive
restraints might be improved
for pregnant women until
Stefan Duma created the first
computer model of a preg-
nant abdomen. Duma, director
of Virginia Tech s Center for
Injury Biomechanics, has also
produced important models
of the human eye and thorax.
And he developed a sensor-
rigged football helmet that has
been commercialized to help
doctors understand impacts to
TR: We ve all seen those iconic
crash-test dummies. What s
wrong with them?
Duma: We ve come a long
way using these dummies,
but they are not 100 percent
humanlike. They only measure
discrete locations where sen-
sors are located. They are fairly
rigid compared to a human.
In a computer model, we can
make them more flexible, and
we can have an infinite num-
ber of sensors.
How did you create your
model of a pregnant
When my wife was preg-
nant, I realized there was little
research in this area, so I got
into it. We created the model
using data from sources like
studies of placenta strength
and validated it by studying the
results of actual crashes that
involved pregnant women. With
this computer model, we can
now "see" inside the abdomen
during the accident.
There s a notion that lap belts
might harm rather than protect
pregnant women. What does
your model show?
We ve shown that the three-
point belt is far superior to
just a shoulder belt. But we re
hoping to help make devices
to better protect pregnant
women. We ve been better able
to show the injuries they are
susceptible to. We ve trans-
ferred this model so that it is
commercially available, and
we are working with [vehicle]
manufacturers on prototype
pregnant belt systems.
How do these prototypes dif-
fer from existing seat belts
and air bags?
There are a lot of things
you can do. You could have
different attachment points,
different sizes, different mate-
rials construction for seat
belts, for example. And we ve
found that the steering wheel
is a key issue. That s where a
lot of the fetal deaths happen.
The Berkeley researchers plan to begin delivering test stoves
to refugee families this fall; they hope to produce 300,000
by next year.
In Bangladesh the problem isn t food; it s drinking
water. In the 1970s, Unicef dug wells all across the coun-
try so that Bangladeshis could stop drinking contaminated
surface water. The aid group s motives were pure, but the
wells were not. Most were in areas with high concentra-
tions of arsenic---in some cases, more than 100 times the
level the World Health Organization has deemed safe. "It
has been called potentially the largest mass poisoning in
the history of the world," Galitsky says.
Recently, the United States lowered its own limit on arse-
nic in drinking water by 80 percent, and states are interested
in new technologies to meet the tougher standard---interested,
and putting up money. Gadgil and Galitsky saw an oppor-
tunity. With a $250,000 grant from the California Energy
Commission and $100,000 from the American Water works
Association Research Foundation, they are developing a l-
tration system that could work both here and abroad.
Arsenic is easy to lter at a big water-treatment facility, but
engineers can t scale existing technologies down enough to
ser ve individual families, or make them cheap enough for the
poor world. Gadgil had an idea. Iron particles act like arsenic
magnets, bonding tightly to the arsenic for easy disposal;
but a lter made of pure iron powder would be prohibitively
expensive. Layering a thin coat of iron onto waste ash from
coal- red power plants, however, would o er similar arsenic-
attracting surface area at a fraction of the cost.
Getting the ash and the iron to stick together turned out
to be a challenge. But after a dozen failed attempts, Galitsky
and Gadgil came upon the solution: washing the iron-coated
ash particles with lye and letting them get good and rusty.
The result, which looks something like dark curry powder,
will capture nearly all the arsenic in a beaker of contaminated
water. The researchers still need to gure out how water
should pass through their hybrid ash-and-iron substrate, and
what real-world conditions might interfere with its perfor-
mance. But they believe lters made with their new medium
could be e ective enough to meet stringent safety standards
yet still a ordable enough to sell to Bangladeshi households.
With Galitsky and Gadgil s method, a family could lter a
year s worth of water for less than about $2; it would cost at
least $58 with today s cheapest comparable technology.
Galitsky talks about all her research with a real sense of
urgency, and not just because people and the environment
are su ering. For the problems she is addressing, big gains
are tantalizingly close, and the rewards will be great---for
the poor communities this kind of science can help, and
for Galitsky as well.
"I felt so helpless," she says. "And I still feel helpless.
But at least now I m doing something."
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