Miles Maiden, inventor of the SteriPEN and other ground-breaking, solar-based water purification technologies, has died.
The College of the Atlantic graduate died of cancer on Feb. 5 at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. Maiden was 60.
His wife of 33 years, Meg Maiden, described Maiden as a restlessly intellectual entrepreneur. His SteriPEN, a hand-held ultraviolet water purifier used by outdoorsmen and international travelers, was called an “Invention of the Year” by Time magazine in 2001.
The device “revolutionized water purification,” said Aaron Cox, a 49-year-old Ellsworth resident who started working with Maiden in 2004 while an engineering student at the University of Maine.
“Before he invented the SteriPEN, the only way they could purify water was through filters, which had been around for thousands of years,” said Cox, who works as the SteriPEN brand manager for the company that makes the device today. “It’s just a little lightbulb. You stick it in the water and in seconds, it kills all the microbes in the water without any manual effort at all.”
Time later named it one of “the 100 greatest and most influential gadgets from 1923 to the present.” The SteriPen, Maiden noted in 2011, was “listed right there with the Apple iPod and Velcro and the Jarvik artificial heart.” Online reviewers rated SteriPEN the No. 1 gadget on the list.
“He was a very insightful person as far as technology goes. He was quick to understand everything,” Cox said. “No one could see things around the corners like he could.”
Meg Maiden described her husband as “funny and warm, and he was the kind of person who was always getting excited about new ideas. He was a real problem solver. He loved a challenge. He would just pursue them. If he didn’t have the information, he would find the people who did.”
An inveterate tinkerer and entrepreneur since childhood, Miles Maiden graduated from the College of the Atlantic in 1986 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in human ecology, and he studied philosophy as an undergraduate. He installed saunas and developed solar panel technology that tracked the sun and concentrated its heat into a thin line for greater efficiency. He traveled the country installing the devices at government buildings, Meg Maiden said.
The panels and pen “came from the germ of the same idea: the sun is a natural disinfectant,” she said.
In the late 1990s, Maiden started working on a solar-powered water decontamination system for use in third-world countries. When that proved too ambitious, Maiden changed gears and worked to miniaturize the technology. He founded Hydro-Photon Inc. in 1997 in Blue Hill to develop the SteriPEN. The device emits UV-C rays, which prevent bacteria from reproducing by altering their DNA.
“It’s not the microbes that make you sick,” Maiden told The New York Times in 2002. ”It’s when they reproduce and start having a party in your stomach.”
Today, SteriPEN products are sold worldwide by retailers including L.L. Bean, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Cabela’s, Amazon and Costco. The Swiss company Katadyn acquired Hydro-Photon in July 2017.
Maiden demonstrated what his wife described as the world’s first use of ultraviolet LEDs in a germ-killing application in April 2004. He also contracted with the Office of Naval Research and the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, an arm of the U.S. Department of Defense that develops military technologies, to help develop ultraviolet and LED-based water purification systems.
“His thought processes were always deliberate, step-by-step,” Cox said.
Maiden holds 11 U.S. patents and many foreign patents, yet his intellectual side complemented a deep love of physical activity and the outdoors. He built his home in Blue Hill himself, loved to fish Blue Hill Harbor aboard his wooden boat, Malachi Mudge, and backpacked through India and Nepal where he became interested in Eastern religion, philosophy and oriental rugs. One of his most rewarding years was spent in Jamaica with his wife teaching at a local high school, Meg Maiden said.
Miles Maiden could be gallant, too. He brought his mother-in-law flowers almost any time he could, much to the chagrin of his brothers-in-law, who started bringing their mother flowers, too, his wife said.
“He had a great artistic sense and loved working with his hands, whether it was decorating his daughters’ birthday cakes, working on watercolor paintings or building backyard patios and trellises,” Meg Maiden said.
Miles Maiden is survived by his wife; their daughters Haley and Hannah; sister Elizabeth Lynne Maiden of Indio, California; and many cousins in England and Cape Cod. His brother Marcus predeceased him in 2005.
A celebration of Maiden’s life will take place at 3 p.m. Saturday, March 2, at the Farmhouse Inn in Blue Hill.