Dr. Robert Metcalf

Bob Metcalf is a Professor Emeritus at California State University, Sacramento, where he taught microbiology courses from 1970-2012. His expertise in solar cooking enabled him to travel to low-income countries to demonstrate that with sunshine and a simple solar cooker, there is an alternative to fire for cooking. He also demonstrated that contaminated water could be pasteurized when heated to 65°C using solar or fire to heat water. 


To overcome the difficulty of performing microbiology tests on water sources in low-income countries, he developed a compact Portable Microbiology Laboratory (PML) that includes the 10 ml Colilert Presence/Absence test and the quantitative 1.0 ml E. coli count Petrifilm used in the food industry. Overnight results correlate with WHO disease risk categories: low, moderate, high, and very high. Metcalf introduced water testing with the PML to AIG members at the AIG meeting at ASM Microbe 2016 in Boston and he has facilitated supplying AIG members with PMLs and flash drives with teaching materials. 


For the last decade he has worked with a community based organization in Lower Nyakach, Kenya, Friends of the Old (FOTO), implementing a strategy to eliminate waterborne disease for the 70,000 citizens who must rely on contaminated drinking water sources. The strategy involves FOTO staff using the PML to bring evidence-based microbiology to the community level and replace myths about waterborne disease with science and providing households and schools with 9300 bottles of the chlorine solution Aquaguard every month. In recognition of Metcalf’s efforts to bring evidence-based microbiology to the community level in low-income countries, he received the IDEXX Water Humanitarian Award in 2018. FOTO received the IDEXX Water Humanitarian Award in 2020. The FOTO strategy could be replicated worldwide. With a PML, anyone can be a water microbiologist. 


You can learn about the FOTO project from a five-minute video made by the American Society for Microbiology:



And view a webinar on water testing Metcalf made for ASM:


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