Design for Development

Development Engineering  | Designated Emphasis  |  News  |  Faculty

Development Engineering is an emerging field of research that focuses on technology interventions designed to improve human and economic development within complex, low resource settings. Alice M. Agogino is currently Chair of the DevEng Graduate Group, which offers a Ph.D. minor (called a Designated Emphasis) in Development Engineering at UC Berkeley. The Dev Eng program is run by the Blum Center for Developing Economies. Below are a description of current and previous projects associated with the BEST Lab.

Human-Centered Design for Development

Recently, many organizations have begun to leverage human-centered design, a design approach where designers gain deep empathy for their stakeholders and use this empathy and understanding to produce solutions to address problems of poverty and development around the world. Despite the emerging proliferation of human-centered design for development (HCD+D), there has been no systematic review conducted which aims to describe the current research landscape. By utilizing metadata analyses of the critical researchers’ locations, interests, and practices, of critical researchers in the field, this report contributes to the emerging HCD+D field by beginning to describe the history, the participants, their activities, and the geographic characteristics of the projects to paint a broad picture of the current HCD+D landscape.

In this project, PhD students Pierce Gordon and Julia Kramer and a team of undergraduate students use several research approaches to characterize the emerging HCD+D field. A working paper of their systematic review and their choropleth-based analyses is available here: HCD+D Systematic Characterization Working Paper. The team, led by Nancy Li (undergraduate in EECS), is also working on a co-author social network analysis of the HCD+D community.

Vizualize an End to Cervical Cancer in Ghana

ME students Julia Kramer (PhD student), Abhimanyu Ray (MEng student), and Karan Patel (MEng student), along with Betsy McCormick (MBA student, Haas School of Business) won First Place in the Global Health category in the Big Ideas contest for their proposal, Visualize: Saving Lives with Training for Cervical Cancer Screening. The proposal was partially developed through a capstone project in DevEng 200: Design, Evaluate and Scale Development Technologies, as part of the new designated emphasis in Development Engineering, and was part of a select group of projects awarded from over 200 submissions. The project will be running a fundraising campaign from September 14 until October 14, with a “soft launch” on August 31. For more information, go here:

Some quotes from the article from the Blum Center:

Prompted by funding and recognition from the Big Ideas@Berkeley contest, a group of Cal students headed by Mechanical Engineering graduate student Julia Kramer is seeking to establish a sustainable training program called “Visualize” for midwives in Ghana. In a country where only five percent of women have been screened for cervical cancer, Visualize aims to create a system in which midwives receive the essential skills and tools to perform a visual inspection of the cervix with acetic acid (vinegar). The inspection method, known as VIA, is a low-cost and effective way to screen for cervical cancer, but it is not widely used in Ghana and other countries due to a lack of training and awareness.

At Berkeley, Kramer teamed up with fellow Mechanical Engineering and Haas School of Business students Abhimanyu Ray, Karan Patel, and Betsy McCormick, to develop the midwife VIA training concept. Visualize’s faculty advisors include public health professional Kyle Fliflet and Mechanical Engineering Professor Alice Agogino, who is chair of the Development Engineering graduate group.

Berkeley Cook Stoves Project

The Berkeley Darfur Stoves Project seeks to protect Darfuri women by providing them with specially developed stoves which require less firewood, decreasing women’s exposure to violence while collecting firewood and their need to trade food rations for fuel. The Darfur Stoves Project collaborates with international organizations such as Oxfam America and the Sudanese organization, Sustainable Action Group (SAG).  The Darfur Stoves Project is part of a larger cook stoves and carbon monitoring initiative of the parent organization, Potential Energy, whose mission is to link research institutions, nonprofit organizations, and private distributors to increase the availability of affordable, appropriate technology to help improve the quality of life and create employment in places affected by poverty and conflict. Current (Daniel Wilson and Julien Caubel) and former (Jessica Granderson) BEST Labbers have participated in the research and Professor Agogino serves as a faculty advisor, co-advised by Ashok Gadgil (LBNL and Environmental Engineering).

Just Milk

Just Milk is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization registered in the State of California, USA dedicated to furthering the NSDS technology and promoting infant health worldwide. The JustMilk project was originally formed at the International Development Design Summit (IDDS) held by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2008. Since then, we have formed collaborations with several academic and public health institutions, creating a truly interdisciplinary and international team. Alice Agogino is the PI for the Venture Well grant for the Just Milk project with Aspen Flynn as the Logistics Researcher.


Zimba: Affordable Water Purification

Originally titled Lochlorine: Saving Lives Through Safe Water, Zimba provides a device for mixing chlorine into water in the correct proportions for a wide range of water flow rates. Zimba can be fitted to a community’s existing water source, such as a hand pump at a well, and is powered by gravity and human energy. Every year, more than 2 million people die from water-borne illness in the developing world, mainly children. These deaths account for 15% of all deaths of children under 5, and are equivalent to one child dying every 15 seconds or 20 jumbo jets crashing every day. They are preventable with access to proper water treatment and hygiene practices. Chlorination is a cheap and safe method to disinfect water. It is highly effective because it maintains water purity over several days unlike other methods that cannot guard against the recontamination which occurs in 40% of the time during water transport, storage, and use. Programs using chlorination at the household level have seen water-borne illness decrease by 22 to 84%. However, these programs have also met some difficulties, including:

  • Errors in dosing leading to under-chlorinated water not fully disinfected, or over-chlorinated water that is sufficiently unpalatable to discourage continued use.
  • Breaks in the chlorine supply chain that reduce availability.
  • Cost of chlorine, which can deter regular use or lead to dilution by users.

Zimba aims to safeguard family health with designs that address these problems. The system produces chlorine using commonly found materials in villages and towns throughout the developing world. The system also includes a device that automatically doses water with the appropriate amount of chlorine, making chlorine easier for clients to use on a community scale.  Zimba is low-cost and robust, and has the potential to save thousands of lives. We seek funding to further develop our prototypes and implement pilot trials to determine effective business strategies for disseminating this technology.

In order to make the system financially self-sustaining, we explored two strategies that could make it profitable for a micro-entrepreneur: 1) selling treated plain water or 2) selling cold or flavored water and using the profit to subsidize the cost of plain chlorinated water.  We worked with MIT and Indian entrepreneur Suprio Das to refine the prototypes for pilot trials in India near Kolkata and Delhi to determine which business model was the most effective. Jessica Vechakul was the student lead on this project, and Alice Agogino was the PI on a grant funded by Venture Well (formerlly called NCIIA – National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance).

Science Education to Promote Sanitation in Thailand:

The carcinogenic liver fluke, Opisthorchis viverrini, infects approximately 6 million people in Northeast Thailand. This research conducted by SESAME student Sara Samiphak involves trying to understand how control efforts, focused primarily on health education to reduce consumption of raw fish, to date have not been effective in reducing infection rates. Her research objectives are threefold: 1) to understand the challenges that at-risk marginalized students face with respect to learning health science education (individual level) and also to understand social structures affecting individuals’ decisions (social environment, macro level); 2) to design and implement experimental instructional interventions aimed at supporting them specifically, or simply to adjust the existing health educational curricula to meet the needs of these people, the majority of whom are poor; and 3) to investigate changes in students’ knowledge and how these changes affect their attitudes towards a specific behavior. The first two objectives call for different but arguably complementary methodological approaches in the social sciences: ethnography and design-based research. Methods for investigating changes in knowledge and behavior vary from clinical interviews and survey data to microgenetic method. Discourse analysis is my primary method as it plays a crucial role in conceptual learning (Radford, 2003; Vygotski & Cole, 1978) and serving as a mechanism by which social structure is expressed (Davies & Harré, 1990). The major hypothesis is that cognition, cultural resources, dispositions, and identity are intertwined. If substantiated, this insight could be leveraged to orient instructional interventions that better support marginalized youth learning health sciences.

Fuel from the Fields

Cooking fuels are problematic in Haiti: while almost half of the population uses wood or agricultural residues as their primary cooking fuel, breathing the smoke from the fires leads to persistent respiratory lung infections, mostly in women and children. Most of the remainder of the population uses cleaner-burning wood charcoal, which can be prohibitively expensive (often 25% of a family’s income). Both options contribute to deforestation in a country that is already 98% deforested. The Fuel from the Fields team led by Amy Smith at MIT includes Jessaca Vechakul, Daniel Wilson and Ryan Stanley at UC Berkeley. The team has developed a method over the last seven years of producing cleaner-burning, inexpensive charcoal made from agricultural waste. Supported by a number of grants from different organizations, the team has validated the viability of the technology and established three training centers and sixty workshops in Haiti producing charcoal for their own use and to sell. The team is now looking to establish centers for training, research, and business throughout Haiti (and eventually worldwide) that will teach farmers the process of making the charcoal, how to create micro-enterprises around the technology, how to innovate/ improve on it, and document the technology’s influence.

Charcoal offers Haiti’s small farmers a way to create successful micro-businesses that produce alternative charcoal, generating new income and providing local employment opportunities while reducing deforestation and improving air pollution associated with cooking. The challenge is in developing a business model to locally sustain the project with local resources.


The Zambulance is a bicycle ambulance designed and built for the people of Zambia. The Zambulance is an affordable transport option for remote areas in developing countries. In several developing countries, people die from treatable diseases simply because they cannot reach health centers when they need it most.  Bicycle ambulances are a proven solution to this transport barrier in remote areas where current methods of transport are insufficient in speed,safety, cost, or availability. Since July 2005, Jessica Vechakul has been collaborating with Disacare Wheelchair Center in Lusaka to develop the Zambulance,  a bicycle ambulance that can be locally produced from common steel and bicycle components.

The Zambian Ministry of Health and the WHO have ordered over 50 Zambulances for health centers all over Zambia.  Independent home-based care and hospice programs have also ordered Zambulances.  Within one month, over 50 patients were transport between home and health centers by a single Zambulance. Given the versatility of the Zambulances for people of all ages and health conditions, it has the potential to be a live-saving technology worldwide. Working with Amy Smith at MIT, Jessica Vechakul is the student lead on this project.

Removing Arsenic from Drinking Water in Bangladesh

Over 40 million people in Bangladesh drink groundwater contaminated with arsenic. Although the WHO’s recommended maximum limit for arsenic in drinking water is 10 ppb, the arsenic levels in Bangladesh, in some cases, exceed 1000 ppb. Forty thousand people in Bangladesh are already showing signs of arsenic poisoning, in what is rightly called the largest case of mass poisoning in history. Arsenic poisoning will cause about 10% of future adult deaths in Bangladesh (population ~140 million) unless something is done.

Although there are numerous proposed solutions to this devastating problem, many of them are expensive and/or ineffective at decreasing arsenic in drinking water to acceptable levels. Scientists at Lawrence Berkeley National Labs have developed two methods to affordably and effectively remove arsenic from drinking water. The first method is called Arsenic Removal Using Bottom Ash (ARUBA). Bottom ash, a widely available waste material from coal-fired power plants, is coated with iron rust, which binds to arsenic. The arsenic can then be removed from the water through settling and/or filtration. The second method is called ElectroChemical Arsenic Remediation (ECAR). This method uses a small amount of electricity to create rust in contaminated water. The rust binds to arsenic, which can then be removed from the water through settling and/or filtration.

The goal of the Berkeley Arsenic Alleviation Group (BAAG) is to design a water treatment system that utilizes LBNL technology to effectively remove arsenic from drinking water. Two teams are working collaboratively to incorporate either ARUBA or ECAR into the water treatment system. The end result will be two possible solutions to the arsenic crisis, allowing greater adaptability to diverse conditions.

Alongside the scientific and engineering development, the team is developing a business model for system implementation. This solution will take into account economic costs/benefits, social acceptability, affordability, and sustainability. In addition, we are now exploring the socieoceonomic and public health implications of arsenic remediation using ARUBA and/or ECAR. For more information visit the Berkeley Arsenic Alleviation Group.

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Development Engineering  | Designated Emphasis  |  News  |  Faculty