Jeff Davids, PhD candidate TU Delft

With a passion for water management and a personal connection to Nepal, Jeff Davids is doing a PhD that involves both.

California native Jeff Davids spent three years with his family in Nepal before moving to Delft for a year to finish his PhD. Now he’s using the power of citizen science to improve water resources management.

Measure water velocity and flow
“I met a professor from Delft in the US in 2013 at a conference. I was working on this idea to use sound to measure water velocity and flow, and the professor, Peter-Jules van Overloop, was working with smartphones doing similar things like measuring water levels.

I came here to work on a short project with him and I literally woke up one morning and had this idea. I thought smartphones are cool, I’ve been to Nepal, everybody has smartphones there. Instead of trying to make a ton of money in developed places, we should be using phones to generate data in places that don’t have any data like Nepal, which I had a personal connection with.

‘We should be using phones to generate data in places that don’t have any data like Nepal’

So, I immediately started Googling for names and the SmartPhones4Water URL was available so I grabbed it. Then I started to build an idea for the next year and convinced my wife and family that we should move to Nepal and see what happens. I worked on some stuff back in California to fund the adventure and then after a year we got a grant from the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency.

The project is about trying to link three different things: citizen science, young researchers and mobile technology. The citizen science part of it is about needing information to make decisions and the process of engaging community members in both generating the information and making the decisions.

We’re trying to leverage something they already have in their pocket, a smartphone, and then give them a platform. Maybe it’s taking a picture of the river and we can see the water level from that, or using simple plastic bottle rain gauges and taking photos of the amount of water in them after a rainfall. These things can be really helpful from the water manager’s perspective. Although my purpose is to get my PhD done, I really wanted all this to be tied to using the information to inform Nepali planning processes. Let’s actually do something with the information – that means government, the stakeholders, the people making decisions.

Mobilise students
At one point we realised that all the people we were working with were students who were really excited about this because as part of their studies, they need to learn how to collect data and do fieldwork. Then we realised there are literally tens of thousands of science and engineering students in the Kathmandu Valley, and if we can systematically mobilize them it would help us generate the data in a more thoughtful and systematic way. We’re now focusing on these young researchers and partnering with them as citizen scientists in a way that benefits them as well.”