Would you be surprised to hear that some of the smartest scientists in the country are working on developing a new toilet?

Well it's about time. "No innovation in 200 years has saved more lives than the toilet," the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation states. "But 2.6 billion people still don’t have a safe, affordable way to poop."

About two-thirds of people on Earth use latrines or defecate out in the open, and 1.5 million children under the age of five die each year because of sanitation problems, the site says.

Which is why the Gates hosted a "Reinvent the Toilet Fair" in Seattle this week. After viewing demonstrations of quite creative toilets (photos below) from scientists across the US, the Gates awarded a team from the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) the first place award--$100,000--for a toilet that truly "gets sh*t done"."

Caltech's incredible commode resuses water and turns urine and feces into fertilizer for crops and into hydrogen that can be used as a backup energy source, as lead researcher Michael Hoffman explains in the video above. No expensive sewer system need; no water source needed.

Perhaps most remarkable of all -- it runs on solar power. Kind of like the solar-powered car that Hoffman and his Caltech colleagues happen to also be working on (!).

And because water and energy are scarce even in developed countries like the US, these toilets have the potential to be the new "it" product of the West as well. Check back in 15 months after Hoffman and his team have worked on ways to distribute the loos cheaply.

Also working on the "Toilet of the Future" will be the second place winners (at the Loughborough University in the United Kingdom), who won $60,000 to continue developing a toilet that turns excrement into charcoal. Third place winners (at the University of Toronto in Canada) were awarded $40,000 and will be working on a toilet that treats excrement and recovers resources and clean water.

Check out photos of the "Reinventing the Toliet" Fair in Seattle:

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  • Bill Gates

    Bill Gates, third from right, looks at a device that uses solar energy to treat human waste, as he tours the "Reinventing the Toliet" Fair, Tuesday, Aug. 14, 2012, in Seattle, which is part of a Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation competition to reinvent the toilet for the 2.6 billion people around the world who don't have access to modern sanitation. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

  • Bill Gates

    Bill Gates, right, looks at a device that uses solar energy to treat human waste, as he tours the "Reinventing the Toliet" Fair, Tuesday, Aug. 14, 2012, in Seattle, which is part of a Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation competition to reinvent the toilet for the 2.6 billion people around the world who don't have access to modern sanitation. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

  • James McHale, vice president of engineering for American Standard Brands, demonstrates how their concept of a better seal for latrines typically used in South Asian countries can be "flushed" with only one liter of water, at the "Reinventing the Toliet" Fair, Tuesday, Aug. 14, 2012, in Seattle, which is part of a Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation competition to reinvent the toilet for the 2.6 billion people around the world who don't have access to modern sanitation. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

  • James McHale, vice president of engineering for American Standard Brands, uses simulated human waste to demonstrate their concept for a better seal for latrines typically used in South Asian countries, at the "Reinventing the Toliet" Fair, Tuesday, Aug. 14, 2012, in Seattle, which is part of a Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation competition to reinvent the toilet for the 2.6 billion people around the world who don't have access to modern sanitation. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

  • Tove Larsen, second from right, of Eawag, the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology, talks about their diversion toilet at the "Reinventing the Toliet" Fair, Tuesday, Aug. 14, 2012, in Seattle, which is part of a Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation competition to reinvent the toilet for the 2.6 billion people around the world who don't have access to modern sanitation. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

  • Kara Nelson, left, of the University of California at Berkeley, talks about the "pHree Loo" toliet, which is designed to safely disinfect sludge waste, as it sits on display at the "Reinventing the Toliet" Fair, Tuesday, Aug. 14, 2012, in Seattle, which is part of a Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation competition to reinvent the toilet for the 2.6 billion people around the world who don't have access to modern sanitation. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

  • Marcos Fiovavanti, of the Ecuador-based "Fundacion In Terris" group, talks about the "Earth Auger Toliet," which is operated by a mechanical pedal and chain system, on display at the "Reinventing the Toliet" Fair, Tuesday, Aug. 14, 2012, in Seattle, which is part of a Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation competition to reinvent the toilet for the 2.6 billion people around the world who don't have access to modern sanitation. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

  • Bill Gates

    Bill Gates speaks at the "Reinventing the Toilet" Fair, Tuesday, Aug. 14, 2012, in Seattle. The event is part of a Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation competition to reinvent the toilet for the 2.6 billion people around the world who don't have access to modern sanitation. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

  • Bill Gates

    Bill Gates, right, walks with guests at the "Reinventing the Toilet" Fair, Tuesday, Aug. 14, 2012, in Seattle. The event is part of a Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation competition to reinvent the toilet for the 2.6 billion people around the world who don't have access to modern sanitation. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)