Ball: Young woman wins award for shedding light

Ankita Ghoshal was sitting in the dark a few years ago when she first started wondering about how to help people with no electricity.

The then-Westlake High School student was in her grandparents’ apartment in India without power during “load shedding,” a period of electricity disconnection to save money. Sitting in that dark room, her brain began clicking away on a solution that could provide people power during such times.

She might have found one. Ankita, who is now in her first year at Princeton University, has developed a generator powered by any heat source, such as a gas stove, the sun or an open flame. The invention recently won her a $25,000 scholarship from the Davidson Institute for Talent Development. She has a patent pending. And she’s hoping that, someday, the generator will make its way to rural areas across the world where people have no access to electricity.

“It’s a small, lightweight, cheap thing that’s practical and easy to use,” said Ankita, 18.

Ankita comes from good science stock. Her father is an engineer. Her mother studied biology in school. And while Ankita had other interests — she sings, plays violin and enjoys Indian classical dance — she was always drawn to math and science. She enjoyed anything that brought her into the lab. Chemistry and physics were also a big draw. (As she says, “They’re not anything, really, without each other.”)

Intrigued by the power problem, Ankita started working on her thermoelectric power generator at a commercial lab with mentors. It took lot of trial and error, but by the end of her junior year, she had it working.

Now the machine can power a 5-watt bulb using any type of heat source available to users (she used a Sterno can flame). It doesn’t need an outlet or batteries. It’s made of cheap materials, including aluminum.

Ankita’s invention has taken prizes at multiple local and state science fairs. Recently, she was among 20 students honored by the Davidson Institute, a private foundation that honors young people for completing a significant piece of work that could make a positive contribution to society.

Ankita’s project fit the bill, said Tacie Moessner, Davidson Fellows Scholarship program manager.

“She’s really thinking on a global scale,” Moessner said.

For now, Ankita is focusing on things closer to home. She’s settling into life at Princeton, getting to know her three roommates and hoping to join some kind of singing group at school. She plans to major in chemical engineering. Science, she says, is about much more than theories and numbers.

“We forget what this is really about, and it’s about the application and how we can use it,” she said.

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