Mortenson Center Sponsors Exchange for Afghanistan

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Architectural engineering students in Senior Instructor Sandra Vásconez’s Sustainable Lighting Workshop last fall learned that the most advanced technologies may not be the most workable in developing countries.

The students were challenged to create low-cost lighting kits that could be used by families in Afghanistan who either do not have access to electricity or who experience blackouts for extended periods of time.

While LED lamps and solar-powered battery packs were recommended by some student teams, the winning prototype consisted of a simple incandescent lamp powered by a hand crank and battery pack. Augmenting the kit were three possible housings to be used in different conditions—one of which was made from an aluminum soda can.

Six Afghan scholars from Kabul University and Kabul Polytechnic University, who are being hosted this year by the Mortenson Center in Engineering for Developing Communities, served as resources to the students and helped to make up the final evaluation team.

The scholars, who are funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development, are at CU-Boulder taking engineering courses to enhance their knowledge and further develop the curriculum on engineering offered in Kabul. Afghanistan faces a shortage of engineering professors, and most of its current faculty don’t have graduate degrees.

“Personally connecting our students with people who live and work in vastly different conditions than their own provided a valuable design challenge for all involved. It helped the student engineers look past technical design issues and focus on the social impacts the presence of light can provide,” says Robyn Sandekian, managing director for the Mortenson Center and a proponent of service-learning opportunities within the engineering curriculum.

The Mortenson Center covered the cost of materials for the Light-in-a-Box project, while luminaire manufacturer Litecontrol funded awards for the top projects. The course was originally developed with a grant from OSRAM SYLVANIA.

Four student teams worked on the challenge and all came up with creative designs, but the one that came out on top showed the most awareness of lighting usage and needs in Afghanistan, Vásconez says. Students Danielle Griego, Kathleen Barry, and Jeanette Zagone won the top award by modifying the characteristics of a portable kerosene lantern that Afghan women are already familiar with to make it less costly and dangerous, while providing portable electric lighting for them to use in their homes.

“All of the students really appreciated the opportunity to do something hands-on in the class,” Vásconez says, “and with a little planning, it is not difficult to incorporate this kind of experience into the curriculum.”

CUE: Academic Program: 
Mortenson Center in Engineering for Developing Communities

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