SenGupta & German

Pictured above: Arup SenGupta advises Mike German on the eve of Mike's departure for India in October 2012. Upper right: Two Cambodian women pump water from a well. The well technology reduced the arsenic concentration in the water from >600 µg/L to <5 µg/L. Lower right: A single-chamber arsenic-removal unit in Kankpul, Ashoknagar, India. The vehicle transports drinking water to nearby villages.

1 Lab

After receiving a Fulbright Environmental Leadership Award for his work in fluoride and arsenic remediation, Arup SenGupta spent the first half of 2012 on sabbatical at the Center for Sustainable Technologies, located at the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore, India.

Inspired and encouraged by SenGupta, his adviser, CEE graduate student Michael German sought and won a Fulbright
of his own.

Both SenGupta and German, a Ph.D. candidate in environmental engineering, are recipients of the Fulbright-Nehru Fellowship. The pair also co-authored a paper SenGupta recently presented at Cambridge University.

Following in SenGupta's footsteps, German traveled to Kolkata, West Bengal, in October 2012. He will spend his first four months in India studying the Bengali language and culture. The opportunity is made possible through a Critical Language Enhancement Award (CLEA), which is an additional grant offered to select Fulbright students to enhance their cross-cultural exchange. The expectation is that CLEA grantees bring home experiences that will serve them in their careers and throughout their lives.

German won't wait until he's stateside again to put his immersion experience to good use. He'll be spending the rest of his year-long fellowship working throughout the Kolkata region. In 2013 Mike plans to field-test the fluoride mitigation technology in cooperation with the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore. The school is SenGupta's home institution in India and a key research partner.

"We send Mike to India, this big country, with something new we've developed in the lab," says SenGupta. "How can we identify more places where he can try out this new technology? How can we improve upon what we've already done there? To move into the field, you need the support of local academicians."

THE BUSINESS OF SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY

SenGupta's work began in 1995 under the auspices of the Tagore-SenGupta Foundation, a non-profit organization. To date the T-S Foundation has installed six arsenic-removal units with six more planned in India, Nepal, Cambodia and Bangladesh. Its success notwithstanding, the non-profit model is limited because it requires that each new installation secure its own funding sources.

The goal now is to establish a for-profit corporation to promote the hybrid anion exchange resins at the heart of SenGupta's technology. Its potential market: The more than 500 million people across Asia and Africa who regularly drink water with unsafe levels of arsenic and fluoride.

"We have some really good technology that's cost-effective and easy to apply," says German. "We want to be able to attract private investment, charge people appropriately for the technology, and subsidize it where we can, especially in the rural areas for the poor. The trick is finding the right business model."

Neither SenGupta nor German is a stranger to business modeling. Both serve as principals of Water Innovation with Science and Engineering (WISE) LLC, an award-winning social entrepreneurship founded by SenGupta. Like the T-S Foundation, WISE addresses the difficulties of providing people in developing countries with access to safe water.

"This is not about just arsenic or fluoride or desalination," says SenGupta. "It's about driving new knowledge to where it might find application for those who need it most anywhere in the world. Taking it to the field, trying it out, failing or succeeding, but eventually getting the benefit of the research across to the people who need it, wherever they are."