Home' InDaily : January 12th 2012 Contents It doesn't quite have the same ring
as Médecins Sans Frontières, nor the
public profile, but the not-for-profit
organisation Engineers Without Borders
(EWB) similarly seeks to improve the
quality of life of some of the world's
most disadvantaged people.
"It was also important to ensure that it was a family activity."
Mr Kirss said the group work was "definitely different" and he
attributes the team's success to their ability to get along.
"I know other groups had trouble. But we worked really well
together. Claire and Joseph focused on preparing a 60-page
project report while Daniel and I worked on the water
But, as Mr Kirss explains, the team didn't exactly have a choice
when it came to taking part.
"The EWB Challenge is incorporated into the Flinders syllabus
now, as the main assignment of the Professional Skills for
Engineers subject," Mr Kirss said, without any reservation.
"I found it fantastic. It's impacting positively on other people
and improving our skill set," he said.
"Being able to develop something that improves the way of
life of people less privileged than you and helping them to
utilise it...that would be great."
Associate Professor Kenneth Pope, Associate Dean (Teaching
and Learning) in the School of Computer Science, Engineering
and Mathematics said the EWB Challenge provided a fantastic
opportunity for new students.
"While many of their topics focus on specific technical areas,
the Challenge encourages them to think about the big
picture, deal with complexity, weigh up alternatives and see
connections," Associate Professor Pope said.
"It provides real experience in a real team, which is great
preparation for their future employment. And for teams
like the SA champions, it gives a vital sense of achievement,
knowing they are one of the best six teams formed from over
8400 first-year students across Australia and New Zealand,"
As SA champions, the team will compete at the EWB
Challenge National Finals in Perth in December, held at the
Australasian Association of Engineering Educators conference.
Leading young engineers
to altruistic deeds
Photo: Arka Dutta
A lake near Devikulum.
One of the Australian organisation's initiatives, the EWB
Challenge, brings together teams of first-year university
students from around Australasia to design practical solutions
to some of the basic infrastructure problems facing developing
countries around the world.
This year -- the third year in a row, in fact -- a Flinders team will
compete in the national final of the EWB Challenge, having
trumped the competition at the South Australian showcase in
The team of Joseph Bramley, Daniel Davies, Claire Bandy and
Benjamin Kirss (pictured) won for their project Sustainable and
Cost Effective Water Solutions, which addressed the vital need
for clean water in the southern Indian village of Devikulam with
a simple and effective design.
Mechanical engineering student Benjamin Kirss said through
reading and research, the team essentially "stumbled
on" the basic element of their system -- using copper as a
"Our system uses a copper coil (to which bacteria will bind) to
remove salmonella and E-coli from the water," Mr Kirss said.
"It also has an activated carbon filter which removes the
sediment and a sand filter, as well. So it removes pretty much
everything undesirable," he said.
The design has the great advantage of being able to be
assembled in situ.
"The most difficult thing would be getting the copper itself. But
the carbon filter can be made from burnt coconut shells and any
fine grain sand would do."
The problem of providing clean, drinkable water had some
"At the moment, the people of Devikulam have access to bore
water, which has high salinity, or using water from a nearby
lake in which they wash animals and themselves. As you can
imagine, it's not too sanitary," Mr Kirss said.
"We also had to take into account their religious and cultural
customs. We had to avoid using certain things or compelling
them to go to certain places.
The problem, according to Professor John Coveney (pictured),
is that the public health message of eating less and exercising
more simply isn't translating into action.
Professor Coveney, a public health academic at Flinders, was
one of five speakers at a public forum on weight and body
image held at Australia House in London organised by Flinders.
Other speakers included Professor Lynne Cobiac, Deputy Chief
of CSIRO Food and Nutritional Sciences, and Flinders graduate,
Oxford doctoral candidate and Menzies Scholarship winner,
The forum was attended by invited guests and members
of Flinders UK alumni, and was followed the day after by a
workshop chaired by Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) David
Day, which discussed the strategies for obtaining funding for
Flinders-UK research collaborations in the area of food, nutrition
and body image.
Professor Coveney said that even though the diet and lifestyle
message may be straightforward, the circumstances of modern
life mitigate against its adoption.
"Behavioural interventions can only go so far,
because we live in an environment that
is saturated with mechanisms that
make us and keep us fat," he said.
Professor Coveney said we are wedded to sedentary lifestyles
with effects that are becoming clear, as demonstrated by
Professor Cobiac's statistical overview of the international rates
of overweight and obesity. By most calculations, Australia now
has the highest rate of overweight and obesity of any developed
nation after America.
Ms McLennan talked about her field work in Nauru, where she
has been researching the prevalence of diabetes linked to high
rates of overweight and obesity. She pointed to a heavy reliance
on imported, processed foods and the development of a cultural
norm of being heavily overweight.
"They have a culture now that has absorbed the problem that
we too are becoming more accepting of," Professor Coveney
"If you take normality to mean more than 50 per cent, it's now
abnormal not to be fat. And it's very hard to stay out of the orbit
that everybody else is moving in."
When a lifestyle is so entrenched and embedded, behavioural
messages are bound to be ineffectual, Professor Coveney said.
"We are living in an environment that doesn't endorse the
lifestyle changes that are needed. Apart from a cosy glow of
virtue, what is the reward?"
Professor Coveney said that persisting with conventional
approaches or intensifying the message was a waste of
"In public health what we have done traditionally and
successfully is to identify and isolate the problem and then
develop mechanisms that directly address it -- we find
and identify the germ, we find the antibiotic that kills it
or we develop a vaccine that protects us from getting it,"
But obesity, like tobacco control, is an issue that doesn't
respond to head-on approaches. Professor Coveney
said that the problem needs to be addressed by
"If you think about seat belts, road safety and
smoking, the most important and influential
public health campaigns have been the ones
that have a fairly strong dose of legislation
and regulation," he said.
"Measures about better labelling of food,
addressing food advertising, making physical
activity easier in workplaces; that's where
we're going to get the mileage and that's
where the energy should be going."
We all have a pretty good
idea of how to avoid
becoming overweight; you
have to make sure that your
intake of energy does not
exceed your output.
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