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Fresh From the Forge

When you walk into a greenhouse, you might expect to see trays of tiny green seedlings. However, if you’ve wandered into the Forge’s greenhouse lately, you’ll see an array of contraptions: everything from decked out pizza boxes to Home Depot boxes taped together...not exactly plant growing material. This past Fall quarter, ENVS 148 (Solar Revolution) students were put to the test to see if they could build a successful solar cooker, utilizing everyday materials and our very own greenhouse.

Professor Stephanie Hughes designed the contest to test the students’ knowledge of basic heat transfer concepts. This was her first year running the contest; as such, there were barely any rules. The students were given insights from Solar Cooker International (SCI), which operates in 124 countries to provide “solar cooking solutions to people whose need is greatest.” With a little inspiration from this non-profit and an immense amount of freedom, the teams of students compiled five very different designs.

 Finals week brought on the real challenge--not because of the endless amounts of studying or loss of sleep--but because it happened to bring the first of the El Nino rains. The ovens were given a bit of a boost by being placed inside the greenhouse, where they were protected from the elements and given a little more natural warmth. Professor Hughes tested each oven multiple times over a ten-day period to see which oven “could heat water to the highest temperature during sunny afternoons.” In the end, the pizza box prevailed! Professor Hughes noted that it had been “re-engineered… [with] black paper on the outside to encourage absorption of solar radiation and lots of crumpled newspaper inside to act as effective insulation to keep the heat inside the box.”

 Professor Hughes plans to run the contest again in upcoming ENVS 148 classes.  She hopes to “relate the class project to SCI’s programs and the need for solar ovens by 3 billion of the poorest of the world’s people.” Even if you aren’t in her class, remember that solar ovens can be a fun backyard project that could be functional! They stray away from burning wood and charcoal and instead, rely on the beautiful Santa Clara sun, improving the health and happiness of the community.

In the spirit of the contest, the Forge Garden was allowed to keep the solar ovens for educational uses. Children from the BUG programs and participants in future garden workshops will be able to see how the sun can be put to work with just a bit of ingenuity.

Congratulations to contest winners CK Kanda, Claire Healy and Matt Lam!

energy, feb16, non-feature, Forge Garden