January Community Game Changer
MSU Denver Professor Aaron Brown (right) worked with mechanical engineering technology major Richard Anderson (left) and other students to design and fabricate a $35 solar furnace built from aluminum cans. Photo by Jessica Taves
Pioneering professor at MSU Denver fabricates low-cost furnace
By Amy Phare
With his students’ help, support from a local nonprofit and 144 aluminum cans, Metropolitan State University of Denver Professor Aaron Brown fabricated a solar device that will help reduce heating bills in Denver’s Westwood neighborhood by an average of $30 per month.
And while the technology isn’t revolutionary, the low cost certainly is. Built with simple materials such as soda cans, plywood, paint, plastic and a fan, the device costs just $35 to create.
“There are people who live and die in terrible conditions that are easily remedied through simple engineering solutions,” says Brown, a professor of mechanical engineering technology. “We’re not talking about Mars technology. We’re talking about soda cans.”
Brown knows all about Mars technology. While working for a Colorado space technology company, Brown helped build the tethering system used to lower the Mars rover Curiosity to the Red Planet’s surface.
At MSU Denver, his efforts are geared toward giving back. He launched a humanitarian engineering club and course, through which he and a team of students built a solar hot water heater at a school in Costa Rica.
“One thing I’ve noticed is that 90 percent of engineering affects only 10 percent of the world,” says Brown. “When we identified the high-energy costs of the low-income Westwood neighborhood, it was really rewarding to be able to directly benefit the community. Helping people – and having the means to help less-fortunate people – is rewarding in its own right.”
The beauty of the solar furnace project is that it is a gift that keeps giving. The team worked with the nonprofit Revision International, which saw the project as a way to sustain a neighborhood and create jobs. Brown is training the Revision team to build the furnaces, which will eventually create employment for local residents.
As for Brown, his efforts don’t stop here. In February, he is organizing a panel discussion on sustainability at MSU Denver’s campus. Also next month, he and Ali Thobhani, the University’s executive director of the Office of International Studies, will conduct a community assessment in the Dominican Republic.
“We don’t want to have preconceived notions of what the community will need, so we’re heading there with an open mind to see how engineering can fit,” Brown says.
In the coming months, Brown’s work will take him – and his students – worldwide. With a project in the Galapagos, another visit to Costa Rica and a goal of seeing the solar furnace technology expand to Syria, Brown is leaving a lasting impact around the globe, in the Denver community and in MSU Denver’s classrooms.
“The service learning aspect for students is such a good experience,” says Brown. “They take away something with them – that this project will make difference in world.”
Content Provided By Metropolitan State University of Denver