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Inventions in Green

Written by Laura Powers

Wetherill (left) and Palmer

Wetherill (left) and Palmer

Two Pitt engineering students slice plywood into pieces, spreading sawdust around a South Oakland basement. They’ve adapted a pool table into a workbench, and their power tools are connected to a slew of extension cords that twist near a washing machine. A radio blares, almost inaudible because of the whirring power tools, as seniors Stephen Palmer and Patrick Wetherill construct the initial framework for what they hope will lead them to success in their efforts to “go green.”

In the basement, Palmer, an industrial engineering major, and Wetherill, a mechanical engineering major, are building a model of their invention, a “Solar Assisted Window Fan.” The device is similar to typical window fans but uses less energy and can both heat and cool a room. It uses heat from the sun to warm room air, and it has a sensor for automatic on-or-off control.

The two students are creating the new fan as part of Pitt’s first annual Energy-Efficient Building Technologies Challenge, launched by the Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation, part of the Swanson School of Engineering. The contest prompts students from Western Pennsylvania universities to invent devices that conserve energy use in buildings. One of the requirements for the challenge is to make an affordable invention that, in one year, recoups the cost of the device through

energy-cost savings.

The Solar Assisted Window Fan invented by Palmer and Wetherill became a finalist and won second prize in the challenge, which included other noteworthy projects to generate wind power, create hydroelectricity with rainwater, eliminate power drain from idle devices like cell phone chargers, and much more.