Indian American teenager Anurudh Ganesan’s award-winning invention VAXXWAGON is an ecofriendly, no-ice, no-electric refrigeration system for vaccine transportation.
As a 6-month-old, Anurudh Ganesan had to be carried by his grandparents through 16 kilometers of remote terrain in south India for vaccination against polio. Upon arrival at the medical clinic, they found the vaccines had become useless due to the high temperature in the area. Fortunately for Ganesan, it did not put his life at risk. But, according to the World Health Organization, approximately 1.5 million children died in 2013 as a result of not receiving appropriate and effective vaccines. In an effort to save these precious lives, Ganesan invented a machine, at the age of 15, that has the potential to truly change the scenario.
Ganesan lived in India for the first year of his life and then moved to Michigan. His interest in engineering began even before he knew how to tie his own shoes. “When I was five, my dad and I were refueling our car at a nearby gas station, and I asked my dad, ‘Can we invent a self-powered vehicle that doesn’t need gas?’ ” he says.
Since then, Ganesan has participated in many science fairs, even inventing a solar-powered fan when he was in the second grade. “Science allows me to dream, imagine, explore and question unknown things. This creative freedom allows me to be limitless in my thinking,” he says.
In developing countries, vaccines are usually centrally located at hospitals in larger, populous cities. From there, they are transported to remote areas on foot or bicycles or on pack animals, often for up to 25 kilometers. These journeys are referred to as the “last-leg” transportation. Although traveling these distances with non-motorized equipment is arduous, the truly difficult part of the mission is getting the vaccines to the destination at the perfect temperature of two to eight degrees Celsius. Hospitals pack a cooler with ice, but what usually happens is that the vaccines either freeze because of the ice or the ice melts and the vaccines get too warm, making the entire journey a complete waste of time and effort. Thanks to Ganesan, this can be resolved through VAXXWAGON, a “No Ice, No Electric” vaccine transportation system. He envisions the device, which is awaiting patent certification, would be made in factories, help empower the community and give employment to local people.
To invent VAXXWAGON, Ganesan did what young teens do best—break things! “I took a refrigerator apart. I saw how it worked, and tried to re-engineer it so that it used no electricity and no ice to provide accurate refrigeration for vaccines while in transport,” he says. The process of invention began over a series of phases. After eight months of trial and error, Ganesan realized that the machine could be powered mechanically rather than electrically. By attaching a trailer with VAXXWAGON mounted on top, a bicyclist can safely deliver vaccines to their destination, without the fear of over-cooling or over-heating them, by simply pedaling the wheels of the bike.
To test the effectiveness of VAXXWAGON, Ganesan ran it on a treadmill at a speed of about 12 kilometers per hour for six hours. This racked up enough energy to power the refrigerator. He then let it rest for about five hours to collect data while the compressor wasn’t being powered. For over four hours, the fake vaccines used in the simulation remained at a perfect temperature.
For this invention, Ganesan was awarded the LEGO Education Builder Award at the Google Science Fair in 2015. As part of the award, Ganesan traveled to Denmark, home of LEGO, and met with its chief executive officer and many other inventors. He was mentored for six months and is now in a new phase of improving the device. He hopes to make VAXXWAGON, which now costs about $100 (Rs. 6,800 approximately) to build, even more cost-effective and easy to operate.
Now, at 17, Ganesan is all set to study at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and is on his way to becoming a social entrepreneur. At this moment, though, he has one goal and that is to see VAXXWAGON out in the field, saving young lives.
Megan McDrew is a professor of sociology at Hartnell College. She is based in Monterey, California.