PSU prof, Stevens Water partner on Rwanda venture

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Evan Thomas, a PSU engineering professor, will distribute thousands of water filters equipped with sensors in Rwanda starting later this year.

Evan Thomas, a PSU engineering professor, will distribute thousands of water filters equipped with sensors in Rwanda starting later this year.

A Portland State University engineering professor with a background building air quality and life support systems for NASA is teaming with Portland-based Stevens Water Monitoring Systems Inc. to deploy sensors that will track the use of water purification filters in Rwanda.

The Rwanda work will be done through Mana Energy, a company founded by PSU professor Evan Thomas, which will distribute water filters and clean-burning cookstoves to some 2.2 million people across the African country.

The sensors will allow aid workers to track the success of the program by delivering realtime data about the use of the filters and stoves. Thomas developed the sensors in partnership with Portland-based Stevens Water, which has deep experience in gathering realtime data on water, soil and weather conditions.

"What we've come up with is a very small, compact device that's providing amazing information," said Scott South, president of Stevens Water.

Working in the lab at PSU to develop the sensor, Thomas garnered support from organizations including the commercialization program at the Oregon Built Environment and Sustainable Technologies Center (Oregon BEST), the Lemelson Foundation and Mercy Corps.

In all Thomas received $550,000 to develop the product, which he will manufacture in partnership with Stevens Water through a joint venture that's using the working name SweetSense.

Thomas sees much potential for using the sensors, which are small and inexpensive, to track the success of a variety of aid projects.

"At all levels, the main way projects are monitored is through surveys," Thomas said. "This provides a platform for more accurate data."

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