PhotoSprague: “The project consisted of repairing a damaged solar panel cell to use for a cell phone charging station at the high school.”

That’s student Emily Sprague. She says the project was part of a ten-week senior math capstone class at Northumberland High School in Virginia. With the help of volunteer mentor Lee Allain, the class renovated a solar panel that had been left in a school closet.

The students learned trigonometry and did the electrical engineering themselves. They replaced the solar cells and reconfigured the output to charge cell phones.

The solar panel worked from the moment they turned it on. It generates 120 watts of energy when the Sun is shining and can charge 12 phones at once.

The students learned a lot in the process, but for Sprague, there was an even more important takeaway:

Sprague: “A lasting impression for me would be the spark of interest in alternative energy.”

That spark has continued to burn … Now a freshman in college, Sprague has decided to major in environmental studies, and with her passion for solar energy, she’s on her way to finding a place in the sun.

Reporting credit: ChavoBart Digital Media.
Photo: Joshua McKinley (left) explains the Solar Application Project to fellow high school students (source: Northumberland Echo newsletter).

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Bud Ward was editor of Yale Climate Connections from 2007-2022. He started his environmental journalism career in 1974. He later served as assistant director of the U.S. Congress's National Commission...