High school students bring electricity to our scientific stations

My last post described the visit of a large group of Lawrenceville School students to our Cerro Candelaria Reserve to help Drs John Clark (who holds the Aldo Leopold Distinguished Teaching Chair there) and David Neill (professor at the Universidad Estatal Amazonica) do a careful tree biodiversity census of a reference plot they established in the forest. One of their other goals was to set up a solar energy system in the reserve, applying what they had learned about sustainable energy at their school. They brought down two “We Share Solar” kits for us (and one for a station run by the Universidad Estatal Amazonica), donated by the We Care Solar foundation through their Solar Education Program. They call these kits “solar suitcases”.

Student Megan Kucker wrote about her experience of Ecuador and the class gift of solar energy:

“…It is one thing to read about living in a developing country, but actually experiencing it is entirely different…Throughout the winter term of my Honors Environmental Science course, taught by the leader of the Ecuador trip, Dr. (John L.) Clark taught us about different energy sources and the impact each source has on the environment. Through a project set up by the We Share Solar Education Program, our class constructed portable solar units called We Share Solar Suitcases, which we took with us to Ecuador. To construct these units, we split into groups of four to wire parts, screw them together, and create a working circuit that could distribute electricity from a solar panel. Each unit includes a cell phone charger, a battery charger for AAA or AA batteries, and outlets for 12V DC devices. The systems we built include 80 watt solar panels and a 12-amp-hour lithium battery. The life span for these systems is about 25 years with battery changes every few years. By learning the benefits of solar energy during class – and then later having an opportunity to build the system – I was able to understand exactly how to keep our environment clean, while supplying energy and power.”

“Dr. Clark inspired me to be a part of the trip to Ecuador. During our classes leading up to the trip, he told students numerous stories – and showed us pictures – of his past explorations in Ecuador. I had a hard time sleeping during the nights leading up to the trip because I was so excited by what Dr. Clark had told us about Ecuador. I couldn’t wait to begin my journey.”


“Along with a lot of other gear for the expedition, we brought three portable solar systems that my class had constructed. We delivered the solar suitcases to three locations. The first solar suitcase was destined for the Zuñac Reserve. The second suitcase we carried and installed in Candelaria Reserve in the cabin where we stayed for most of our course. One of our guides (who I now consider a friend), Jesus Darwin, was overjoyed when he was able to charge his phone so he could take more pictures while we were in the jungle. As a side note, his full name is Jesus Darwin Recalde, but everyone calls him “Darwin” because his dad goes by “Jesus.” Our other guides were also pleased with the units because they could cook at night under lights and they had a source of electricity to charge their cameras and headlamps. [Note added by LJ: Also laptops! Scientific instruments! Remote video monitoring of the forest! Maybe internet and wildlife webcams to reveal this forest’s secrets and help guard it from poachers! It is a huge step forward for scientific and conservation work in this remote wilderness.] The third suitcase was delivered to Yankuam, a newly established reserve that will be directed by Dr. David Neil from the Universidad Estatal Amazónica.”

“Throughout the week at Candelaria Reserve, I was able to see the impact the solar suitcase that I helped construct had on everyone in the camp and our guides. Building the units during class in New Jersey was fun, but getting them into the hands of people who would ultimately use them on a daily basis filled me with pride. I loved being involved with a project that had a long-term impact.”

“Travelling to Ecuador this spring was probably the best experience of my life. Not only did I bond with amazing people from a different culture, but I had the unique opportunity to contribute to the ongoing energy needs in remote rainforests of Ecuador.”

Thank you John, and the Lawrenceville School students, and the We Care Solar foundation!!! You’ve transformed our humble stations into real science laboratories. You’ve also made our work much safer, since we can now stay in good communication with the world in case of emergency.

Lou Jost
EcoMinga Foundation

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