In first world countries, keeping temperature sensitive materials like vaccines at a fixed temperature is rarely a problem. But in countries like Tanzania and Zimbabwe, having a reliable and constant power source is a luxury that not everyone can afford. To provide a solution for this problem, Gordon McCambridge ’15, who received the Gordon Grand Fellowship — a post-baccalaureate award which supports up to a year of travel, research or work abroad — to fund his project, developed an affordable data collecting device known as the NODE which can monitor temperatures as well as track other quantitative data changes.
McCambridge said he conceived his idea of developing the NODE — which can also collect other quantitative data such as tracking the water level in a tank or checking the weather in an irrigated field — while on a backpacking trip across Africa. He traveled from Tanzania to South Africa the summer after his junior year, where he met with nongovernmental organizations and other corporations in southern Africa. He said he noticed a common problem: many of these corporations did not have the necessary technology in order to track environmental conditions such as water levels, climate conditions and temperature. And when storing vaccines, stable temperature is essential, he said.
“If we think about going to the hospital and pulling the vaccine vial out of the refrigerator, you don’t think about the fact that that vial had to stay between two and eight degrees Celsius at one time,” McCambridge said. “But say you’re in Zimbabwe or Bolivia where they don’t have stable power grids or refrigerated cars. In this case, vaccine temperature becomes a challenge.”
During his senior year, McCambridge took MENG 491, “Appropriate Technology for the Developing World,” and developed a low-cost device that could monitor vaccine temperatures. He called it the NODE. But McCambridge said he saw more potential in his project.
According to Vincent Wilczynski, deputy dean at the Yale School of Engineering and Applied Science, the NODE is a device that records temperature, pressure and humidity conditions at a certain location and uploads this information on a cellular device to the internet. The first prototype of the NODE was McCambridge’s senior design project, and during the summer after his senior year, McCambridge won a CEID fellowship in order to refine the model, Wilczynski said.
McCambridge’s device improves upon past models of data collecting devices used in developing countries because it transfers the data to a database rather than just leaving the information on the device, he said.
“The status quo for the developing world is to take your installation and leave it out in the field without any idea of what’s going on with it,” McCambridge said. “And this is a data challenge that affects many fields [including solar, agricultural and public health],” McCambridge said.
By combining the technology of a little computer with the basics of a cell phone, McCambridge developed the NODE as a solution to these quantitative data collecting challenges.
This past summer, McCambridge worked with another Yalie, Tayo Ajayi ’15, who helped him develop the housing for the NODE’s circuit board. Ajayi joined the project with no background in engineering, but with the resources provided by the CEID, he was able to teach himself numerous computer aided design modeling softwares such as Solidworks, Ajayi said.
According to Wilczynski, Ajayi and McCambridge’s combined efforts in developing the NODE represent the overarching mission of the CEID and the Engineering Department at Yale. The CEID is a “resource of Yale and gets its strength from the diversity of Yale,” Wilczynski said. While McCambridge had an interest in global affairs and Ajayi entered the project with a background in applied mathematics, they were still able to work together, capitalizing on their strengths, to engineer a solution to a relevant global health problem, Wilczynski said.
“It’s a perfect example for the value of intellectual diversity and the opportunity to support independent thinking and creativity,” Wilczynski said.
McCambidge has already installed the first version of the NODE in a village in Zimbabwe and went to Shenzhen in order to develop the latest model of the NODE with the help of a Yale-founded incubator known as Higgs Hub.
McCambridge said he hopes to turn the NODE into a business, providing a wide array of organizations with new transparency and access to data in order to enhance their goals. He added that he envisions himself providing the NODE to companies and NGOs posing the question: “Now what can you do with it?”
Wilczynski lauds the device as flexible and applicable to a wide array of global problems.
“It’s a solution that invites more problems to solve,” Wilczynski said.
According to the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund, more than 30 million children are unimmunized due to lack of information or misinformation, unavailability of vaccines or poorly provided and inaccessible health services.