Published: Jan. 2, 2019
Evan Thomas

Evan Thomas - Mortenson Center / CU Engineering
Fri. Jan. 11, 2019 | DLC | 12:00 PM
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Abstract: Nearly a billion people in the world lack access to safe drinking water, two billion have inadequate sanitation facilities, and three billion use firewood for their daily energy needs. Combined, these resource limitations are among the leading causes of death, and economic and political insecurity. Exacerbating these problems are the global effects of climate change.

In many countries, service providers are often utilities providing access to clean water, safe sanitation, and affordable energy. However, in many developing countries, there remains a significant gap between the intent of service providers and the impacts measured over time.

A combination of technologies may help address these information asymmetries and enable improved decisions and response. Remote sensing from satellite based instruments can forecast drought, floods and famine. A new generation of cubesats can provide global data coverage. In-situ sensors can monitor water resources, air quality, and global health program delivery.

In this seminar several programs designed and managed at CU will be discussed. Presently, a group of partners are currently installing satellite connected sensors on boreholes in the arid regions of Northern Kenya and Afar and Somali Regions, Ethiopia. Today we are monitoring over 1.5 million people’s water supply, scaling to 5 million in 2018. Roughly half of water systems are functioning at any given time.

Our intervention is aimed at achieving continuous functionality of services.  In a water filter and cookstove program in Rwanda, instrumentation was used to monitor health behaviors, correlate adoption to health outcomes, and monetize program impact through carbon finance and “health credits”. The program has to-date reached over 1.6 million people across over 350,000 households and demonstrated a 30% reduction in the prevalence of diarrhea and respiratory illness among children under 5.

Bio: Evan Thomas is the Director of the Mortenson Center in Engineering for Developing Communities and holds the Mortenson Endowed Chair in Global Engineering at the University of Colorado at Boulder. He is a tenured Associate Professor jointly appointed in the Civil, Environmental and Architectural Engineering and the Aerospace Engineering Sciences Departments.

Evan has a PhD in Aerospace Engineering Sciences from the University of Colorado at Boulder, is a registered Professional Engineer, and has a Masters in Public Health from the Oregon Health and Science University. 

Evan’s technical background is in water and air testing and treatment applied in developing communities through to operational spacecraft. He founded SweetSense Inc. which is supported by USAID and the National Science Foundation to develop and apply satellite connected sensors monitoring drinking water services. Daily, the team is monitoring a million people’s water supply across east Africa.

Evan’s research has been funded by NASA, the National Science Foundation, the World Bank, USAID, the UN Foundation, the CDC, the United Kingdom Department for International Development, the Gates Foundation, and others.

As Chief Operating Officer of DelAgua Health from 2012-2016, Evan conceived, designed and directed a $25 million dollar public health intervention in Rwanda with the Government of Rwanda. The program reached 350,000 households with cookstoves and 102,000 households with water filters, in over 7,500 villages and 1.6 million people. 

Evan was previously an Associate Professor at Portland State University and Oregon Health & Science University from 2010-2018 (asst prof. 2010-2016) founder of the SweetLab, and founding director of GlobalPDX. 

Evan was a civil servant at the NASA-Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas from 2004-2010. At NASA, Evan was a aerospace engineer working on microgravity fluid management technologies and water recovery systems for spacecraft hardware flying on the Space Shuttle and International Space Station.


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