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Engineering Students Cook Up Green Ideas

L-R- Students Nathan Rothrock, Patrick Watkavitch, and Brandon Maholtz review the design of their solar cooker with Penn State Engineering Research Technician Glenn Rishel.
12/9/2009 —

DuBois – Students in the Freshman Engineering and Design class at Penn State DuBois have developed their own methods for environmentally friendly cooking using solar energy.  For their class project, eleven teams of students designed and constructed their own solar cooking device.  Each team’s device had to be able to boil water, heat a can of soup, or cook a hotdog.


“There was only one problem statement,” said Engineering Design Instructor Craig Stringer.  “They had to cook food using the sun, that’s it.  What we ended up with are eleven different ideas, and they’re all viable.” 


Most designs were built using cardboard and aluminum foil.  It was required that the teams keep their costs under $65.  Some worked like an oven, reflecting the sun’s rays into a chamber where the energy was converted to heat and held.  Others used lenses, much like a magnifying glass, to concentrate the sun’s rays and cast them directly onto food items.


Not only is the idea of cooking with solar energy an environmentally friendly idea, it’s actually a necessity in some parts of the world.  Stringer said solar cookers are used extensively in South Africa where firewood is scarce, and less than 20% of the nation’s residents are tapped into the electrical grid.  “I actually got the idea for this project while reading a magazine,” he said.


For the students, it allowed classroom learning to be put into practice, bringing textbook lessons to life.  “It teaches the engineering process,” said student Brandon Maholtz.  “You have to define the problem, and then eliminate the problem by finding the right solution.” 


“We wanted to come up with solutions that would best serve customers looking for a cooker like this,” said student Caleb McGarvey, of Reynoldsville.  “We learned a lot while working on this project, and had a lot of fun too,” he said. 

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