A long standing problem at medical clinics in the developing world, which are far away from power sources, has been how to sterilize medical instruments. Now, engineering students at Rice University have solved that issue by creating a device that concentrates sunlight to create a sterilization chamber. The sun-powered autoclave — a device that uses high powered steam to sterilize — could help prevent the spread of infection and illness in clinics around the world without access to proper sterilization tools.

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The autoclave — which is shaped like an a-frame with super-insulated sides — uses a curved mirror to concentrate sunlight on a central steel tube which then heats up and boils water to create high pressured steam. “As long as the autoclave reaches 121 Celsius (250 F) for 30 minutes (the standard set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), everything should be sterile, and we’ve found we’re able to do that pretty easily,” Sam Major told UPI. Major was one of four seniors who helped to create the sun-powered autoclave — his teammates were Daniel Rist, David Luker and William Dunk.

We put about an inch of water inside, followed by the basket with the tools and syringes,” Major added. “We’ve used some biological spores from a test kit, steamed them, and then incubated them for 24 hours and they came back negative for biological growth. That means we killed whatever was in there.” The team took the idea for their autoclave from a cooking device created by students at Rice University which is currently being used in disaster relief zones in Haiti.