• Written by Alvaro de Salvo
    27 October 2015

Everything happened really fast. Two emails, one phone call and one Skype meeting and I was hired to perform a three-month internship at Akvo.

My name is Léa Bontemps. I am an environmental engineer with a chemistry background. I am convinced that chemistry is essential to understanding, quantifying and dealing with environmental issues. This is why Akvo needs it to develop its water quality testing kit, Akvo Caddisfly.

Above: Lea testing the Caddisfly kit on Fluoride at the UNESCO IHE lab in Delft, the Netherlands. Picture by Hans Merton.

My job was to validate the water quality measurements in a laboratory and say, with the help of the Caddisfly team, whether the smartphone application was reliable or not at this stage of the product development. But where to find a laboratory close to Amsterdam?

During the internship, Hans Merton (programme manager and Caddisfly manager) developed a partnership with Unesco-IHE at the Institute for Water Education, in Delft, Netherlands. I was thus able to use their labs and interact with their lab team of analytical chemists to develop protocols and validate the testing kit. This place was very international: master and PhD students come from all over the world and work hard to learn about water engineering and management. The perfect environment to validate a water quality testing kit aimed at being used in developing countries.

A typical day started with checking emails from the Ternup labs team, the Indian team based in Bangalore, which is five hours ahead of Delft. Then going to the lab to start the experiments, while chatting with students who were intrigued by me using a smartphone as an analytical device in a chemistry laboratory. It was really inspiring and motivating to see that those students, who might use Caddisfly back in their country, were really enthusiastic about it. A phone call to Hans to talk about the progression of the day or an issue encountered and I was back in the lab.

Research and development is not easy work, because it can be very repetitive and it never works how you want it to, so it always takes more time than planned. But working on Akvo Caddisfly development was not only about research; it was also about working all together and sharing our knowledge and experience to make the most of this internship. In addition to the research work which proved the validity of the tests, I was also given the opportunity to present Akvo Caddisfly as a guest lecturer at Unesco IHE and to show how promising this testing kit was. I also translated the Caddisfly smartphone application from English into French in order to be easily used in African countries.

All this work in three months? Communication, a nice working environment and a dynamic and innovative organisation are the key for a rewarding internship.

Léa Bontemps was an intern at Akvo from January to March 2015.

Alvaro de Salvo was Comms executive, Marketing Manager, Head of Marketing and Communications, and a member of the Management team at Akvo. You can connect with him via LinkedIn or Twitter.