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The judges awarded an Honorable Mention to a team from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a public-health organization in Nepal for a low-tech, relatively low-cost home water-filtration system for use in developing countries. The team, led by MIT research engineer and lecturer Susan Murcott, sought to address one of the most pressing public-health problems in developing countries: the lack of clean drinking water, especially for those living in rural areas or urban slums. Millions of people die every year from water-related illnesses, with many of the victims young children. The MIT team's water-filtering system won in the environmental technology category. Though decidedly a low-tech solution, it was praised by judges for addressing an important problem in an original fashion. However, they also cautioned that even at $20, the price may be too high for the poor households it's targeted for.
"Clean water is not sexy, and $20 a year won't make anyone rich," says Robert Drost, a scientist at Sun Microsystems Inc. and leader of the team that won last year's Gold award. "But third-world challenges in water, food, shelter, and basic medical care are much more important than innovations in first-world entertainment."