A biweekly publication for faculty and staff

Kathmandu Link Creates Opportunities for Collaboration

March 10, 2015

Last week I took a field trip with colleagues to Nepal. The purpose of this trip was to sign a memorandum of understanding (MOU) between UC Merced and Kathmandu University.

One of our School of Engineering colleagues, Professor Elliott Campbell, had a working relationship with a researcher there, and our own Mark Aldenderfer, dean of the School of Social Sciences, Humanities and Arts, has firsthand experience with research expeditions in Nepal. These research relationships grew into our new MOU.

It was apparent from my visit that many of the challenges we face on the homefront, such as water issues, energy issues and air pollution, are common in the Nepal area as well. Fundamental socioeconomic challenges and health issues draw additional parallels between the San Joaquin Valley and Nepal.

The good news is that solutions to societal, environmental and technical challenges we face locally can be readily studied in a global context with our new partner in Nepal.

In the School of Engineering we also engage undergraduate students in our capstone and service learning classes in seeking and designing solutions to larger challenges, while leveraging the research from our university.

This year, one of our capstone teams is investigating the feasibility of designing a solar toilet using research by Professor Roland Winston. The design will allow for converting the “input” to a powder that can be used as a fertilizer, without requiring additional water or electric infrastructures.

This type of invention is not only useful for, among others, our own national parks here in the U.S. — it is also of critical importance to improving health and environmental conditions around the world. Mt. Everest has become a good example in this regard, as Base Camp is getting overburdened with human waste. This waste is carried in frozen cubes to lower elevations — imagine what a delightful job it is to clean up. My goal is for UC Merced to finalize designs for the solar toilet over the next year and install at least one at Base Camp, Mt. Everest!

This case exemplifies how UC Merced’s research can be applied to major challenges, but also shows the importance of a cross-functional campus where science, social science and engineering collaborate to create solutions for society.

In Bhutan, Nepal’s neighbor, having a toilet will increase the Gross National Happiness Index score that they have navigated by for years. That means we at UC Merced not only help create solutions to societal and environmental challenges, but also help improve quality of life.

And that’s a pretty big deal in the world we live in.

That’s why I’m challenging each faculty member to find and propose other ways we can leverage our new relationship with Kathmandu University, Nepal and the Himalayan region in our quest to solve the world’s most important challenges.

And please, help me make the Base Camp toilet a reality!