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College of Science and Mathematics

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Cal Poly Students Look to Sun to Reduce Carbon Footprint, Feed Communities

high-efficiency cookers constructed, deployed in Uganda  

Cal Poly student Madison Fleming explains the prototype of a solar-powered cooker that she
​and three other Cal Poly students are working on in Uganda as part of a project with Physics Professor Peter Schwartz.
 Video provided to the College of Science and Mathematics by AidAfrica. 



Cal Poly students are cooking up a project they hope will one day yield big results in developing countries.

Pete Schwartz, a physics professor, and 8 students from multiple disciplines across campus have been developing solar-powered cook stoves as part of Schwartz’s Appropriate Technology Class. Four of the students –- Madison Fleming, Omar Arriaga and Chris O’Day, engineering majors, and Ian Stone, a physics major –- set off for Uganda early this summer to deploy prototypes of the cooker. 

Photo collage that includes three men and one woman smiling with children
Four students in Physics Professor Pete Schwartz's
 Appropriate Technology Class traveled to Uganda this summer
to construct and deploy prototypes of a solar-powered cook stove.
Credit // Contributed 

While in Uganda, the students are conducting hands-on research to find out the local processes of cooking, determine desired features of the cook stove and determine the social and cultural implications regarding cooking in Uganda. The students are also keeping a blog documenting their research experience in Uganda and have set up a GoFundMe account to help support the project. 

"This has been the most inspiring summer research experience I have ever had," said Schwartz, who has been a professor at Cal Poly for the last 16 years.

Since 2008, Cal Poly students have engaged in various solar cooking projects as part of the appropriate technology classes, summer research, and senior projects in physics and engineering. 

"Possibly the most exciting aspect of what we’re doing is supporting this learning community and developing our research model -- doing research about research," he said. 

The project is part of a unique collaboration between Cal Poly and AidAfrica, a non-profit organization dedicated to rebuilding sustainable communities in the poorest areas of Uganda by providing necessities like clean water.

The stove is powered by a photovoltaic panel that is insulated with sustainable and locally available products like rice hulls -- which helps keep production costs low and makes assembly and reproduction of the stoves relatively simple. 

The goal of the project is to eventually have the solar cookers replace traditional wood- or charcoal-burning cookers. These traditional cookers emit soot, which kills more people than aids and malaria combined each year, according to studies. Fires from the cookers also contribute to climate change and deforestation.

"These students are learning firsthand about the development of cooking technologies and our future work with AidAfrica," Schwartz said. "The work is profoundly interdisciplinary and no one is an expert, but together we have made great progress on all of our projects."

Story updated Aug. 15 at 11:30 a.m.

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