WEB PROJECTS: Designing a Better World

Science  07 Mar 2003:
Vol. 299, Issue 5612, pp. 1493c
DOI: 10.1126/science.299.5612.1493c

Much as the alien-seeking SETI@home project uses the Internet to multiply computing power, the ThinkCycle Web site pools engineering expertise to solve pressing down-to-earth problems. Launched by a group of grad students, the 3-year-old venture of MIT's Media Lab links students, researchers, and nongovernmental organizations to tackle obstacles hampering underserved communities. The site lists more than 100 health, environmental, and other challenges awaiting clever solutions—from designing a low-cost rice-planting machine to cleansing drinking water of arsenic contamination, a scourge across large areas of Asia. Anyone's invited to post ideas, critiques, suggestions, and even drawings of their own proposals. Researchers in academia and industry can mentor student design teams and help refine the challenges, says co-founder Nitin Sawhney. He says that students gain from participating because they pit their abilities and imagination against real-world problems.

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