A cool idea at the White House Science Fair: Vaccines + bikes [video]

Anurudh Ganesan is on a bicycle, and on a mission. With every turn of the pedals, gears spin, and a cooler being towed by the bike gets a little colder.

It’s an idea that could save countless lives and won 16-year-old Anurudh an invitation to the 2016 White House Science Fair. The project also made him a winner at the 2015 Google Science Fair.

President Obama described Anurudh’s project as “a refrigerator on wheels that transports vaccines to remote destinations.”

During the April 13 White House Science Fair, the president said Anurudh’s VAXXWAGON is “the kind of innovation and compassion that we’re seeing from so many of these young people.”

What’s the big deal?

Anurudh’s bike-powered cooler creates a perfect environment for vaccines, which must be kept within a narrow range of temperatures just above freezing. Too hot or too cold, and the vaccines spoil.

This is a huge problem. According to the World Health Organization, 1.5 million children die every year because they don’t have access to safe and effective vaccines. Anurudh hopes to change that with his bike-powered VAXXWAGON.

For him, this story is personal.

When he was an infant, living in southern India, his grandparents carried him 16 kilometers to a remote clinic. “Unfortunately, when we got there, the vaccines weren’t viable due to lack of refrigeration,” he says. “I was shocked to see that this is still a problem today.”

The breakthrough

Anurudh decided to find a better way. His big innovation? A purely mechanical refrigeration process that could run on a little bit of power, from a hand crank or bicycle. “This is an absolute game-changer,” says Anurudh. “Currently, last-leg vaccine transportation is done using ice and electricity, both of which are precious resources in developing countries throughout the world.”

The VAXXWAGON relies on purely mechanical power for refrigeration, rather than ice or electricity. (State Dept.)

After a year of research and tinkering, 200 hours of testing, and a few false starts, VAXXWAGON was ready for the world stage. It won the LEGO Education Builder Award at last year’s Google Science Fair.

What’s next?

After the Google Science Fair and his trip to the White House, Anurudh has big plans. He dreams of becoming a social entrepreneur, starting his own organization dedicated to solving global health problems.

Until then, he will remain a fairly typical American student, playing tennis and hanging out with his friends and family.

But as he refines his revolutionary vaccine cooler, he’s taking time to give back. Based on the support of his parents and teachers, Anurudh discovered a passion for mentoring kids interested in science. “We have a lot of complex problems here in the world today, and science and technology allows them to help solve those problems.”

Learn more:

Anurudh’s VAXXWAGON is the latest of several innovative ways to keep vaccines cool.