Hal Aronson toils in a backyard workshop in Berkeley in order to save lives in Africa.
What he's doing seems wildly simple: He is refining a portable solar system that can power LED lights in hospitals and clinics.
But giving doctors the ability to see and treat patients in places where electricity is spotty or nonexistent comes close to a miracle. Listen to Aronson and his obstetrician-gynecologist wife, Laura Stachel, describe scenes of desperate need, and the importance of their work becomes clear.
For instance, they recall the story of a pregnant woman whose uterus had ruptured during labor and was turned away from an African hospital because it was night and doctors could not see well enough to treat her.
"Light is life," said Aronson simply.
Aronson, who earned a bachelor's degree in politics (Cowell '79) and a Ph.D. in sociology from UCSC in 1997, is co-founder with Stachel of a nonprofit called We Care Solar (wecaresolar.org).
Its roots go back to 2008 when Aronson, a self-taught solar engineer, got an email from Stachel, who was part of a public-health research program in Nigeria.
Stachel described having to stand by helplessly while a pregnant woman with a condition readily treatable in the U.S. fought for her life because doctors could not see well enough to aid her.