MIT Lincoln Laboratory honors project that brings electricity to village

MIT Lincoln Laboratory, in conjunction with the International Astronomical Union (IAU), named a minor planet discovered by the Lincoln Near-Earth Asteroid Research (LINEAR) program in honor of the team of college students who won the top award, the Student Humanitarian Supreme Prize, in the 2010 Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Presidents' Change the World Competition. The planet will be named for the e.quinox project, the students' system for making electrical power accessible to households in remote areas of developing countries.

"We are honored to have a minor planet named after e.quinox. This will be a lasting reminder of our work and a beacon for future generations of students, to encourage them to apply their knowledge to benefit others," says Christopher Hopper, chairman of the project.

The IEEE Presidents' Change the World Competition, initiated in 2009, challenges students to use engineering, science, computing, and leadership skills to solve real-world problems for the benefit of their community or humanity. The 2009, 2010, and 2011 IEEE presidents selected the winners from among 15 projects identified as the best candidates by a global judging committee.

The e.quinox team in the center of the energy kiosk in Rwanda. Photograph courtesy of Imperial College London.

The e.quinox team from the Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering at the Imperial College London developed the energy kiosk, a station where portable batteries are charged and then hired out to households without access to electricity. The kiosk's system uses renewable energy, such as solar power, to charge the batteries. The fees levied for use of the batteries pay for the maintenance of the kiosk and salaries for local people employed on the project. The first energy kiosk is operating in a Rwandan village of 60 families.

The minor planet named for the e.quinox project is one of more than 200,000 space objects discovered by LINEAR's two electro-optical deep-space surveillance telescopes located on the White Sands Missile Range near Socorro, New Mexico. Since the IAU grants discoverers of minor planets the privilege of recommending names for them, Lincoln Laboratory decided in 2001 that the best use of the naming rights for its many discoveries was to honor student science fair winners and their teachers. The resulting program, named the Ceres Connection, annually honors about 250 students and teachers. In 2009, the program added the grand prize winner of the IEEE Presidents' Change the World Competition to its honorees.

Typically, the Ceres Connection recommends a planet name that reflects the honoree's name. However, the e.quinox team's planet name will reflect the project name because the team has twelve members: Mohammad Mansoor Hamayun, Manuel Tragut, Alexander McLaren, Alexander Rybka, Christopher Baker-Brian, Christopher Hopper, Hemal Mehta, Laurent Van Houke, Matthew Dayton, Ndubuisi Kejeh, Thomas Luth, and Varun Sharma. In the next academic year, students from the college who will take over the project from the current team hope to upgrade the kiosk and set up new kiosks in other Rwandan villages.

Posted September 2010

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