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Lighting the Darkness

Someone of a negative mindset once told me “If the world was in darkness and someone invented the light-bulb, the banks wouldn’t be interested.” This man stood in his own world of darkness, determined that nothing could be improved due to an indifferent society.

And of course, the rise of the industrial world shows how wrong he is. Certainly there are many stories of brilliant entrepreneurs, knocking on doors for years and years before someone with the resources (e.g. money) finally listened to them – or sadly in some cases, never did. However once in awhile we hear of a genius who gains almost immediate recognition and such a man is University of Calgary based, electrical engineer Dave Irvine-Halliday.

A trek in the Himalayas

Dave had spent his sabbatical leave fulfilling his ambition to trek the Himalayas’ famous Annapurna Circuit. One day he paid a visit to a small rural schoolhouse and was struck by how dark the schoolroom was and immediately the teacher in him wondered how the children could concentrate on schoolwork in such an atmosphere. Exploring further he became aware of the further difficulties of children in the Himalayan villages trying to do homework in a one room family shelter, with the only light powered by paraffin lamps that generated massive amounts of pollutants resulting in major respiratory troubles and too often starting fires that would further add to the trials faced by the family. In fact his research showed that Only 200,000 of Nepal’s 3.4 million households have a reliable power supply. Furthermore that the same thing was true of many millions of basic housing units throughout the entire developing world.

Working with the Nichia Corporation of Japan, he and his colleagues successfully developed practical applications for the long-sought white LED – a major breakthrough, since the LED bulb uses a mere fraction of the needed power of incandescent bulbs. Furthermore the LED’s have proved almost indestructible as LED bulbs built and installed in the early 1970’s are still functioning.

Irvine-Halliday went on to build his own foundation and started to offer micro powered white LED’s throughout the third world. Today these systems power not only homes but when clustered together in bundles, illuminate village centers and even hospital surgical rooms. Power is often provided by small generators located in a local creek or even solar driven – solar power being something that is in abundance in much of the developing world.

The advent of any new technology triggers events in other aspects of life including social and educational benefit since with light to read and cook by, comes the promise of a better life. In poorer countries, as women in particular become educated, birth rates decline and household incomes rise.

Irvine-Halliday held up a (new generation) lightbulb to light the darkness – and the world did indeed listen.

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