Finalist-PhilBlogAwards 2010

Finalist-PhilBlogAwards 2010
Finalist for society, politics, history blogs



Thursday, August 29, 2013



Erle Frayne D. Argonza

Another brightening news for developing countries, more so the poorer communities in far flung areas, is the innovation of solar grid devices that can sterilize medical equipment and human waste. The solar device, developed by experts from the Rice University in the USA, can produce steam which precisely is what is needed for spot sterilization.

To add luster to the brightening news, the innovation uses nanoparticles from gold which in turn get attached to the solar panel grid. The nanoparticles produce steam, as per result of experiments, yet they don’t get consumed or destroyed and thus get to be re-used again.

The great news could surely warm up the faces of social development teams who do health missions in far hinterlands. More so for the medical professionals in the teams, who no longer need to worry about where and how to sterilize their equipment when they do tough missions in very poor communities in far hinterlands.

Below is the reportorial about the gladdening news.

[Manila, 26 August 2013]

Off-grid solar sterilisers could aid remote areas

U.S. Air Force/Tech. Sgt. Bennie J. Davis III

Speed read

·         The off-grid devices create steam using sunshine, water and nanoparticles
·         Both prototypes passed a standard test for steam-based sterilisation systems
·         But questions remain about their cost and what support will be provided
[CAIRO] A solar-powered steriliser could provide remote areas in the developing world with a portable, off-grid solution for sanitising medical instruments and equipment, according to a study.

In remote, resource-poor locations, the lack of readily available sterilisation processes for medical or dental tools increases the risk of disease propagation.

Now, researchers from Rice University in the United States have developed two prototype sterilisation devices that harness the sun's power: one to sanitise medical equipment and the other to sterilise human waste without the need for an external electricity source. Their work was published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences last month (8 July).

Both devices are modified versions of the steam-based autoclave systems used in modern medical facilities to eradicate infectious microorganisms from surfaces and liquids with a blast of high-pressure steam.

"Although steam-based sterilization is the primary method of choice for the processing of medical waste in the developed world, the large energy requirement for operation is the fundamental limitation for its adoption in developing countries, with limited or nonexistent access to sources of electricity sufficient to power such systems," the study says.

The new devices consist of a vessel containing water and gold nanoparticles that is placed in sunshine collected using a solar dish. The nanoparticles absorb the sunlight and this heat produces steam.

The process does not damage the nanoparticles, so they can be reused.

The systems maintain temperatures between 115 and 132 degrees Celsius for the time period sufficient to sterilise the contents of a 14.2 litre volume, which is in accordance with US Food and Drug Administration sterilisation guidelines.

Both devices passed the standard test of killing a reference strain of the heat-resistant bacteria Geobacillus stearothermophilus — used to check the performance of standard steam-based autoclave systems — in a sample over 30 minutes.

The researchers say their prototypes could be altered to provide steam for direct use in water purification, cooking, or electricity generation. However, they declined to comment on whether the devices have been field-tested, who will produce them and how they will be made available to developing countries.

Lead researcher Naomi Halas, professor of biomedical engineering at the university, tells SciDev.Net: "We would prefer not to answer questions regarding our technology. Any information not disclosed in our paper is not for public knowledge at the present time."

Tony Collins, managing director of UK-based autoclave manufacturer Priorclave, says that the devices could have a significant impact in developing countries, but also suggests a modification.

"Some consideration should be given to a method of ensuring the items to be sterilised stay at or above the required temperature for the required time without having to watch the process," he says.

Hilmi Salem, a research professor and director-general of the Applied Sciences and Engineering Research Centres at Palestine Technical University, says that the use of gold nanoparticles raises questions about cost and whether the devices will be affordable to poor communities.

"It remains to be seen whether the apparatus and technical support will be available to them under manageable and suitable terms," Salem adds.

Link to the paper

Friday, August 23, 2013



Erle Frayne D. Argonza

Venezuelan science experts are of the contention that basic science is directly correlated to economic development. Though not necessarily the cause of economic development, conducting high levels of basic science research shows a correlation to economic development.

I’ve always been an advocate of ‘physical economy’ paradigm of economic growth. The good news from Venezuela practically supports the contention of pro-physical economy who had tirelessly cogitated that shoring up recessionary economies should be done by prioritizing investments and expenditures in agriculture, manufacturing, infrastructure, transportation & communications, and science & technology.

The Venezuelan scientific report reveals that high investments in basic science shows a great deal of rationality among planners and decision-makers, which in turn yields good decisions that sustain economic development. The scientists went on to caution that skipping on basic science would do harm to a developing economy.

There just may be too few quarters in the world that would raise howls about such an argument, which is shown in the report below.

[Manila, 20 August 2013]

Basic science linked to faster economic growth

O. Usher (UCL Mathematical and Physical Sciences)

Speed read

·         Productivity in basic sciences correlates with economic growth, but does not directly cause it
·         Scientific productivity is a better wealth growth predictor than many other competitiveness indices
·         But benefits of investment in science should be weighed against investment in other development projects
Middle-income countries that focus on basic sciences, such as physics and chemistry, grow their economies faster than nations that invest in applied sciences, such as medicine or psychology, according to a paper by Venezuelan researchers.

They say that "investing in basic scientific research seem[s] to be the best way a middle-income country can foment fast economic growth", although they found no direct cause and effect between basic science and economic development.

Instead, they believe that investment in basic sciences — as indicated by the proportion of published articles in these fields — reveals a rational, decision-making atmosphere within a country and among its leaders, as well as promoting economic growth.

Klaus Jaffe, lead author of the paper and coordinator of the Centre for Strategic Studies of Simón Bolívar University in Venezuela, tells SciDev.Net that the correlation between scientific productivity and economic growth "has always been suspected, but there has been very little evidence that supports this idea.

"We had been observing that poor or middle-income countries were growing at a different pace than the developed ones and we wanted to know why."

The study, published in PLOS One last month (12 June), set out to investigate if some areas of science promote development more than others, and if applied sciences are better at advancing economic development than basic sciences.

The researchers examined the correlation between World Bank data on the growth of GDP (gross domestic product) per capita and the proportion of scientific publications in different scientific fields.

They found scientific productivity in basic science, including physics, chemistry and material sciences, correlated strongly with countries' economic growth over the following five years.

“The most important thing is to invest in basic sciences. Those who try to skip this step fail.”

Klaus Jaffe

And preferential investment in technology, without investment in basic sciences, achieved little economic development, the say. "Thus, technology without science is unlikely to be sustainable."

They also discovered that scientific productivity was a much better predictor of economic wealth and the Human Development Index — a composite of life expectancy, education and income indices used to rank countries' development — than other commonly used indices, such as indices of competitiveness or globalisation.

"The results of our paper demonstrate that the most important thing [for sustainable development] is to invest in basic sciences. Those who try to skip this step fail," says Jaffe.

Looking ahead, the ranking of scientific productivity in 2010 showed that countries with the greatest focus on physics were "among the fastest growing economies in 2012. Regrettably, no country from Africa or Latin America is on this list."

Jaffe says that "the situation is different in every nation. Most countries of Africa, for example, are trying to build the infrastructure they need to be able to do proper research. In addition, this competes with trying to find solutions to everyday problems to guarantee people's subsistence."

Douglas Gollin, professor of development economics at the University of Oxford, United Kingdom, says research is needed to analyse what type of investment brings the greatest benefits.

"You would want to compare the returns from basic science research with the returns from more applied research on agriculture or health," he says.

"You should also compare the returns with other investments in public goods: in infrastructure, primary healthcare, primary and secondary education and so on. Of all the things that the government can invest in, is this one that generates the greatest improvement in public welfare?"

Link to full study


PLOS One doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0066239 (2013)

Saturday, August 17, 2013



Erle Frayne D. Argonza

Gracious day to you, fellow global citizens!

A very gladdening news was recently released by the International Rice Research Institute (Laguna, Philippines) about a new rice varieties that will adapt to very dry & drought climate situation. The core variety being bred grows its roots downwards rather than sideways, thereby allowing the plant to take on more nutrients deeper down under.

What amazes an observer about the rice variety is that it even yields much higher during a drought situation than during normal climate. As per assessment by the IRRI, growing a lot of the same drought-prone rice varieties can be factor to keeping rice prices at affordable $300 per tonne across the world.

Below is an attachment of the reportage about the amazing rice variety.

[Manila, 15 August 2013]

Rice gene digs deep to triple yields in drought


Speed read

·         Severe drought can cause as much as 40 per cent yield loss
·         The gene causes the roots to grow further down towards water and nutrients
·         This produces grains during drought, raising hopes for better rice crops
A gene that gives rice plants deeper roots can triple yields during droughts, according to Japanese researchers writing in Nature Genetics this week (4 August).

Rice is a staple food for nearly half of the world's population, but is also particularly susceptible to drought owing to its shallow roots, researchers say.

“If rice adapts to or avoids drought conditions using deeper roots, it can get water and nutrients from the deep soil layers.”

Yusaku Uga

The new study shows that by pointing roots down instead of sideways, the Deeper Rooting 1 (DRO1) gene results in roots that are nearly twice as deep as those of standard rice varieties.

"If rice adapts to or avoids drought conditions using deeper roots, it can get water and nutrients from the deep soil layers," says the study's lead author Yusaku Uga, a researcher with Japan's National Institute of Agrobiological Sciences.

Uga and his team found that in moderate drought conditions, the yield of rice with DRO1 was double that of the shallow-rooted rice variety. Under severe drought conditions, this increased to 3.6 times greater.

"The most important point is that we had rice grains produced under drought conditions," says Uga. "When rice crops just tolerate drought, they cannot get water and nutrients, resulting in a kind of survival mode."

The DRO1 gene occurs naturally in more than 60 rice varieties. For the study, the research team crossbred a rice variety carrying DRO1 with a shallow-rooted variety and then bred the offspring together to produce a rice crop in which DRO1 was uniformly present.

The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) estimates that an additional 8-10 million tonnes of rice will be needed each year to keep rice prices affordable at around US$300 per tonne. Finding a drought-resistant variety of rice may be key to attaining this goal, according to researchers.

"Drought is the most widespread and damaging of all environmental stresses," says Sophie Clayton, head of communications at IRRI. "In some states in India, severe drought can cause as much as 40 per cent yield loss [in rice crops]. Moreover, with the onset of climate change, droughts may become more frequent and more severe."

Link to full study in Nature Genetics


Nature Genetics doi:10.1038/ng.2725 (2013)

Friday, August 09, 2013



Erle Frayne D. Argonza

A very brightening innovation concerns the usage of gravity to power lamps. The innovation just came out of the lab tests and will be tested very soon in Asia and Africa.

Called the GravityLight, the innovation utilizes a specially designed LED lamp for the purpose. If found to be practicable in commercial usage, then the technology will redound to another milestone in the Renewable Energy field, the future implications of which could be staggering.

I am definitely supportive of such an innovation which borders what ‘macro-innovation’. The use of lamps date back to the mid-point of modern industry yet, circa 2 centuries ago, but the utilization of gravity for lighting up lamps is authentically new.

In the long run, the use of gravity to power machines and engines will be the forecast spin off from the GravityLight. To recall, the chemist turned scifi writer Isaac Asimov articulated on the practical usage of gravitic technology to run space ships (see his Empire vs Federation novels) which I find very sound enough.

The GravityLight report is shared below.

[Manila, 06 August 2013]

Gravity-powered lamp to enter field tests
EEP Energy and Environment Partnership

Speed read

·         The lamp converts energy from a descending weight into light
·         Trials in Africa and Asia will test its performance in everyday use
·         A US$55,000 crowd-funding project for the lamps raised US$400,000
A cheap new light that could provide an alternative to kerosene and solar lamps in rural areas will enter field testing in Africa and Asia this year.

The device, a gravity-powered LED lamp called 'GravityLight', works by attaching a weighted bag below it from a cord. As the bag slowly descends, gears convert the weight into energy — providing users with up to 30 minutes of light, depending on the weight of the bag. There are also settings to provide brighter light for a shorter period.

Each device comes with an empty bag, which can be filled with up to 12 kilograms of material such as earth, rocks and sand. It needs no battery.

The idea behind GravityLight was to overcome the limitations of options such as solar lamps, which need sunlight and have a limited battery life, and kerosene lamps, which cause indoor pollution and are expensive to refuel, says co-designer Jim Reeves, associate director at Therefore Product Design in London.

After four years of development, the device is now ready for field testing.

Around 7,000 GravityLights are being manufactured, paid for by a 40-day crowd-funding project which raised around US$400,000 against a target of US$55,000.

One thousand lights will be sent predominantly to Asia and Africa for testing in the coming months. The remaining units will be distributed to those who helped crowd-fund the GravityLight trial.
"These contributors will also be feeding back on the performance of the product," Reeves tells SciDev.Net.

The field tests will examine the performance of the device over time — including the effects of varying weather conditions on its internal components — with help from local partners such as NGOs.

Once the tests have been conducted, production will be scaled-up early next year, says Reeves. Each device is expected to cost between US$5 and US$10.

“It doesn't have any pollution disadvantages.”

Mary Willcox

He is currently exploring two ways of approaching the market — manufacturing the devices centrally and distributing them globally, or manufacturing the components centrally and distributing them for local assembly, which would provide jobs.

He also plans to fine-tune the light for Western markets to help subsidise the main activity of the GravityLight project — to provide much larger quantities to developing countries.

Mary Willcox, principal energy consultant at Practical Action, a UK-based international development charity, says developing countries need a variety of lighting options and that GravityLight will make a huge contribution to this.

"It doesn't have any pollution disadvantages and given that it uses LED it should provide better lighting."

She adds that it is important to undertake field testing as, "that's the only way to understanding whether something is really robust in use".


Richa Malhotra

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Saturday, August 03, 2013



Erle Frayne D. Argonza

Gracious day, fellow global citizens!

Environmental economists have an alarming news to report to us all: development costs outweigh the benefits. The ‘benefit’ side of the equation comprise of both the people welfare (human ecology) and the natural ecology benefits.

While the GDP (gross domestic product) is still an acceptable measure of true growth, it has become anathema a yardstick to indicate the overall situation of social and ecological benefits. As an alternative, the experts are proposing a Growth Progress Indicator or GPI that could show better the results of development using a typical cost:benefit analysis.

The environmental economists found out that the GPI used to grow alongside the GDP but only until 1978, after which the gap widened. Such a gap is still widening, as indicated for instance by the gap between the rich and poor.

Incidentally, the alarming news came out at a time when the issue of equitable income distribution has been the most sonorous issue in my own country the Philippines. Accordingly, GDP has been growing at very high rates recently, yet jobs can’t be created enough aside from the observed developmental benefits accruing more to the already filthy rich magnates at the expense of poor families.

Below is the reportage about the highly intriguing phenomenon.

[Manila, 01 August 2013]

Costs of economic growth have ‘outweighed benefits’

Speed read

·         Despite rising GDP, a measure of global wellbeing has dropped since 1978
·         This is mainly due to falls in income equality and environmental degradation
·         Development policies should target economic welfare rather than production
[BUENOS AIRES] Development policies should urgently shift from trying to maximise production and consumption towards attempts to improve real welfare, which — unlike growth in GDP (gross domestic product) — has not improved since the late 1970s, according to a study.

The study, which examined 17 countries from 1950 to 2003, found that, although GDP has on average more than tripled in these countries, overall social wellbeing has decreased since 1978.

To reach this conclusion, researchers used the global 'Genuine Progress Indicator' (GPI). Among the things it considers are income distribution for each country, along with household and volunteer work (activities that enhance welfare but do not involve monetary transactions), and, for example, the cost of environmental degradation.

“GDP and GPI began to go in different directions when global per capita earnings hit this amount. After that, GDP kept growing, but GPI levelled off.”

Ida Kubiszewski

The countries for which GPI has been estimated comprise more than half the world's population, over five continents, as well as representing nearly 60 per cent of global GDP. They are: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Chile, China, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, New Zealand, Poland, Sweden, Thailand, United Kingdom, the United States and Vietnam.

"We got some pretty interesting results showing that global GPI per capita peaked in 1978. This means that, globally, the external costs of economic growth have outweighed the benefits since this year," Robert Costanza, professor of public policy at the Australian National University and co-author of the study, published in the latest issue of Ecological Economics, tells SciDev.Net.

The researchers also found that GPI does not increase once GDP per person reaches around US$6,500 a year.

Ida Kubiszewski, a senior lecturer at the Australian National University and the study leader, says: "GDP and GPI began to go in different directions when global per capita earnings hit this amount. After that, GDP kept growing, but GPI levelled off — or even decreased.

"This divergence occurs because the gains we have made over the past few decades are outweighed by the costs, most notably environmental degradation and [rise in] income equality."

Even though GDP was not designed to measure social or economic welfare, it is still the most commonly used indicator of a country's overall performance. In contrast, the study says that, "while GPI is not the perfect economic welfare indicator, it is a far better approximation than GDP".

The study also highlights the need to take a more considered approach to measuring success in societies, the authors say.

Walter Pengue, an ecological economics expert at the National University of General Sarmiento, Argentina, who was not involved in the study, says that "bringing together a lot of information which can be easily understood, not only by scientists but especially by decision-makers, is the main challenge" to building a unique indicator to assess development progress.

Pengue says that the study makes a valuable contribution as it evaluates GPI as an indicator that tries to integrate a number of issues that GDP does not capture.

Link to paper abstract 


Ecological Economics doi: 10.1016/j.ecolecon.2013.04.019 (2013)