A team of Iowa State University researchers is studying ways to make wood-burning cook stoves used by billions of people in developing nations safer and more efficient. Mark Bryden, an I-S-U mechanical engineering professor, says people cooking over fires inside their one-room shelters frequently fall victim to severe burns.

In various cultures, Bryden says women with long hair or long skirts often get burned while pots fall over by accident and scald people or kids may fall directly into the fire. He says studies have found one of the primary causes of infant mortality worldwide is acute respiratory infection — made worse by living in smoky environments.

One study from Guatemala found living in a home with an open fire was the equivalent of smoking tens to hundreds of packs of cigarettes — per day. Bryden says some people use actual ovens while others just pile stones around a fire on the floor of their shelter. He says engineers would like to make that all an engineered product that becomes safe but it’s a challenge because anything you do costs money and no one has money — but he says the cost of injury is far greater.

Bryden says they’re trying to develop a set of tests that could rate stove safety and then convince stove manufacturers to follow those guidelines. Bryden proposes a new engineering course at I-S-U that would take students to developing countries like Honduras during the summer.