What most of us know about Madagascar we’ve learned in geography, or from an animated movie.
What Dr. Lee Kallstrom’s engineering students, at Omaha North Magnet High School, know is that its people in Madagascar struggle to heat their homes and cook their meals. The trees they use to fuel their homes and stoves are disappearing, making what remains more expensive and more difficult to acquire.
In addition, burning wood for indoor stoves exposes people to health risks that contribute to nearly 4 million deaths per year.
Kallstrom’s students also know that razing the forests for fuel means irreparable damage to the delicate ecosystems, which support animals that can’t be found anywhere else in the world, including the endangered Greater Bamboo lemur.
They are applying what they know to find solutions, and are working with other lead organizations. Susie McGuire, of the non-profit Conservation Fusion, has been the students’ chief mentor. They’re also working with Dr. Edward Louis and the Omaha Henry Doorly Zoo’s Madagascar Biodiversity Partnership (MBP).
In conjunction Susie McGuire of the non-profit Conservation Fusion, lead mentor of the program, and), Omaha North’s students are working on solutions.
The students have designed rocket stoves made of metal cans similar to those filled with flavored popcorn. The stoves burn small briquettes made of ground and compressed sticks and twigs, resulting in a more efficient and less toxic cooking source that serves the Madagascar people while saving endangered resources.
The seemingly simple design was a result of numerous design revisions. For example, to make the briquettes students first designed a grinder for the sticks and twigs. The next step was to design a mechanical press that would convert the ground material into briquettes in a consistent, systematic way. They worked closely with an Omaha tool and die shop to ensure the equipment was built according to specifications.
Their efforts have not gone unnoticed. Dr. Louis and his MBP program awarded Omaha North’s students a grant to continue developing products to be tested in Madagascar. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology has chosen Omaha North as one of only fourteen high schools nationally to receive a $10,000 grant on behalf of a program funded by the Lemelson Foundation.
Dr. Kallstrom says his students’ involvement with MBP is just one example of Omaha North’s commitment to giving back, whether to the community in their backyard or across the world.