Friday, March 25, 2011

The Workshop: Business Curriculum

The goal of our group is that once we leave the area, the local people will be able to successfully sustain development of the devices they have learned to make. That is why in this portion of the workshop, we help raise the awareness of different marketing methods. We challenge the local people to question to who, what, and how they would market the technologies. For example, the technicians may be able to go to a neighboring village and demonstrate how a bicycle generator is more efficient than a diesel generator because multiple people in the village can use this device. Hopefully this would lead to the village seeking an outside donation or money from a relative, and the money earned from this would go toward building more devices. While this section of the workshop might be more difficult for those without a business background, we try to give them the most hands-on education possible by forcing them to come up with marketing ideas and then critiquing them. This way, they learn from their own good and bad ideas in the boardroom, and it is our hope that this translates to success in the real world.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Workshop: Physics Curriculum

The physics portion of the curriculum focuses primarily with how the devices are built and run. It covers what materials are needed, how the fundamental parts of each device are built, and the physics behind the design and how each part actually works. This is probably the easiest section for people in the workshop, for most of them are trained technicians and easily grasp these ideas.

The following table illustrates our overall six tier curriculum on the physics of energy conversions. Each tier builds upon the next tier as well as introduces new physics concepts to better understand the fundamentals of energy.

Before beginning any of these devices (besides the bicycle or hand-crank generator), we make sure to build a model out of wood or plastic first. We have a model built for every design developed in Africa. After intense critique of the design and robust debate over which local materials should be used and how the device should be built (which may last several days), only then do we purchase the equipment and go to the garage to build. After building and testing each device, we then completely transfer to the Business of Energy curriculum to pilot each device. Here are some pages from the current draft of the physics curriculum, as written by Abigail Mechtenberg who has her doctorate in Applied Physics from the University of Michigan.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Workshop: Introduction

As we have stated before, what distinguishes our group from others is that we believe in empowering the local people to have complete control over devices that are implemented in their area. This means not only teaching them how to design different technologies, but also the physics behind it (so that they may maintain, repair, and improve upon the devices) and the business aspect of it (marketing the devices, raising money to obtain money to build more devices). This is achieved through a weeklong workshop that we hold for technicians at the local technical institute, and that will be the topic of our blog this week.

For further information and pictures of our actual curriculum, you can visit

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Lego Energy Workshop

This spring break, Empower Design will be holding a Lego energy camp fundraiser in order to raise money to travel to Africa. The camp is to be held for kids attending Ann Arbor middle and high schools.

The camp is primarily headed by Abigail Mechtenberg, faculty advisor for Empower Design and Research Fellow at the University of Michigan. In this weeklong camp, kids learn all about different renewable energy technologies and the energy transfer systems associated with them. Here is an example of a Lego guide to building a hydroelectric generator.

Just as these kids are building small scale Lego models of different devices, in Africa our curriculum involves a technology transfer table. This basically allows technicians to liken the small scale parts to actual building materials. The technology transfer table is the last and most essential part of our curriculum in Africa.