War sucks. Humanity’s nadir. During the nearly year-long deployment I spent as an ‘imbedded geek’ for the Army in Iraq in 2008, I participated in the most horrible cat and mouse game. The enemy’s ‘makers’ would contrive insidious ways to harm/kill/disrupt our soldiers and my job was to counter these ‘makers’ and help bring our service men and women home safely. The enemy was resolved, so our focus was clear and straightforward — use ingenuity and tech to put the enemy on their heels. The solutions, however, were not straightforward and often required unique resources to develop.
Disasters also suck. Nature’s nadir. But the enemy is blurry. The enemy is the elements. It is the supply chain. It is desperation and prolonged discomfort. It is, unfortunately, sometimes us. And the problems are less clear and straightforward. St. Thomas was so badly destroyed that I wasn’t sure where to even begin. The problem set was so big, I couldn’t characterize it. And in disasters, the solutions are likely under-resourced. I don’t have DoD funding to solve the problems, I have NGO dollars and donations.
This is why we need clever and quickly developed solutions for these disasters. Imagine Apollo 13 except it’s set in the Caribbean. And there’s Dengue Fever. And more traffic.
One of the most commonly heard issues was cooking. How can a population cook without power? Nearly all the stoves are electric and power might be out for a year in parts of the Caribbean. As a chemist, I always wanted to use the hydrogen from water to create a cookstove. We have ample fractured solar panels that can provide the needed voltage/amperage, but we need a safe and ingenious way of capturing the hydrogen from the sea/fresh water and using it to safely (used safe twice…get the hint?) cook food. A solution that can eventually be made by the local population, and even create jobs, is a clear winner, but anything that gets the job done with as much of the local materials as possible will be a giant victory.
Please also review the challenges to see if you might have other clever and innovative ideas for solutions! Get your make on! Literally make a difference!
And if you need to get in touch with me directly, find me at:
Here is the challenge overview from the link:
Problem: In the USVI, most people cook with electrical or gas stoves. However, electricity is out in most areas and gas is hard to access. Instead, seawater can be used for cooking if it can be converted into useable fuel. Residents have access to seawater and non-potable water that can be electrolyzed to make hydrogen for cooking with upcycled solar panels.
Solution: Develop a safe and effective cook stove that uses upcycled solar panels to electrolyze water. The cookstove does not need to dynamically make hydrogen while cooking (i.e. it can store compressed hydrogen made earlier). The cookstove needs the correct air/hydrogen mix to create a consistent flame while ensuring the system will not explode/catch on fire if operated incorrectly.