WEST ORANGE, NJ — West Orange High School students became engineers Monday, Dec. 11, when they gathered to build circuits with Liter of Light, a nonprofit organization that aims to bring affordable and sustainable solar light to people without access to electricity.
A crowd of students, teachers and town officials came together to make the battery-powered circuits that power lamps, which Liter of Light will use in lights the group installs around the world. The organization was concluding a 12-city national tour, stopping at schools across the country to host hands-on workshops. After concluding their trip in New York City, Liter of Light founder Illac Diaz and his team made a special stop at WOHS.
This wasn’t the first time the organization has been to West Orange — Liter of Light worked with Ryan Del Guercio, the district’s supervisor of engineering and technology, and local teachers three years ago. Based on the organization’s help back then, Del Guercio wrote an engineering curriculum that incorporated Diaz’s solar power ideas.
“We’ve always taught circuits and solar power, and this is incorporating that,” Del Guercio said in an interview with the West Orange Chronicle at the event. “We’re always talking about solving real world problems, but we make those up. This is definitely a real world problem. They’re applying what they learn to design something and make an innovative way to solve a problem.”
The supplies to build the circuits were provided by Liter of Light, and students set to work with soldering irons and the tiny parts that would eventually light a lamp. To test what they built, the circuits were placed in plastic lanterns.
“We’re here because we got inspired here,” Diaz said at the event. He had visited the Thomas Edison National Historical Park while in the area three years ago, and seeing the history of the light bulb and electricity was important to him. “We’re going to collect the circuits that are made here and we’ll match it in an actual street lamp.”
Diaz described the challenges that solar-powered lights can solve in areas without access to electricity. Gas exposure from kerosene lamps can make people sick, and the risks in lighting them are much greater than in lighting solar lamps. Additionally, if a kerosene light is knocked over, it can catch fire.
“It’s a practical solution for a problem,” Mike Brick, chairman of the West Orange Environmental Commission, told the Chronicle at the event. “We felt it was a unique venture to support light for Third World countries. Kids got invested in the technology because it’s applying what they’re learning in school.”
Brick said that students’ ability to work with Liter of Light to help those who need it adds an extra layer to the pride that he and the other environmental commissioners have in how West Orange has contributed to electricity during the course of history.
“It’s a technical solution to a social problem, and it can educate and inspire our whole town, people of all ages,” Brick said. “We’re glad to be able to empower them. It’s nice to see the kids doing it; there are so many firsts and unique things. We were at the beginning of the electric revolution and we should be proud of it.”
Councilwoman Susan McCartney, who works with the Environmental Commission, was also at WOHS to help build circuits to bring light to those who need it.
“The idea was to teach the students and they would be the ambassadors to teach the others in town,” McCartney said. “That’s what I’m most pleased about, that they’re enthusiastic about it. I’m pleased that people came out. It’s a simple idea, to come away with an idea that blossoms into something that can really help countries that have needs.”
Photos by Amanda Valentovic