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Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI)

Energy@Rensselaer: Providing Light to Individuals Who Do Not Have Access to a Power Grid

June 21, 2011

Energy@Rensselaer: Providing Light to Individuals Who Do Not Have Access to a Power Grid

Quality Life Through Quality Light

Rensselaer Polytechnic Graduate Students Awarded “Best of the Best” Prize for Innovative Idea to “Change the World”

As part of the Change the World Challenge competition sponsored by the Office of Entrepreneurship each semester, Rensselaer students select a topic from a range of challenges with the potential to improve human life, and offer an innovative and sustainable solution to that challenge. Some examples of challenges include improving safety and security and addressing energy, water, or health issues.

Last year, a special $5,000 “Best of the Best” award was created to accelerate the progress of a fall or spring team that demonstrated a strong commitment and clear progress in pursuing its idea to commercialization.

This year’s “Best of the Best” award was presented to Rensselaer graduate students Asiri Jayawardena ’13 and Natalia Lesniak ’11 for their innovative product and business model approach to providing light for people who have no access to a conventional power grid.

Their entry, Quality Life Through Quality Light, included plans to build working prototypes of photovoltaic-charged LED lanterns and a mobile/wireless network that provides a “pay as you need” financing strategy.

“While all the student submissions had the potential to make a real difference in people’s lives, the judges felt that Quality Life through Quality Light - all things considered - truly captured the spirit of the Change the World Challenge as envisioned by the Challenge’s alumni benefactor, Sean O’Sullivan,” said Rob Chernow, Rensselaer’s vice provost for entrepreneurship.

Jayawardena and Lesniak are students in Rensselaer’s Lighting Research Center (LRC), the world’s leading university-based research and education organization devoted to lighting.  The LRC offers the world’s premier graduate education in lighting, including one- and two-year master’s programs and a Ph.D. program. The LRC recently added entrepreneurship to its curriculum through a grant from the National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance (NCIIA).

“The NCIIA grant allowed us to add entrepreneurial program elements to help students better identify and understand industry opportunities and the innovation process with a focus on lighting products and services that benefit society and the environment. The Quality Life through Quality Light project is one of the results,” said Professor Russ Leslie, LRC associate director.

By means of NCIIA funding, LRC students have the opportunity to grow their innovations and ideas through business plan development and prototype construction. In addition, students have the opportunity to work with LRC multidisciplinary faculty and other business experts through the LRC Lighting Technology Greenhouse program, developed to foster the commercialization of sustainable lighting technologies and services. 

About the students
Asiri Jayawardena is from Sri Lanka, a country in South Asia where close to half the population has no access to electric light. Jayawardena spent his youth studying by candlelight, which inspired him to seek a career in electrical engineering with an emphasis on lighting. His research is focused on electric properties, control strategies, and product testing of LEDs. His goal is to develop high-quality, solid-state lighting solutions that are affordable for the people of South Asia.  He also plays an active role in supportingLRC efforts to help develop the Regional Centre for Lighting in South Asia.

As the primary knowledge partner, the LRC is guiding the South Asian center in developing education, research, and testing programs, as well as strategic collaboration initiatives, to create access to clean and efficient lighting for the people of South Asia. Prior to enrolling at the LRC, Jayawardena earned a Bachelor of Science degree in electrical engineering from the University of Moratuwa in Sri Lanka.

Natalia Lesniak was born in Krakow, Poland. She studied fine arts at the Cooper Union in New York and has exhibited her work in Europe and in the United States. She has also been closely involved in furthering arts education for underprivileged children in New York through the Nowodworski Foundation.  She is currently in the master’s program at LRC with a focus on light and health.

About the Change the World Challenge
The Change the World Challenge was created in 2005 by Rensselaer alumnus and entrepreneur Sean O’Sullivan ’85. O’Sullivan earned a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from Rensselaer, and was a founder and first president of software firm MapInfo Corp. He has started a number of other companies and organizations, including JumpStart International, an engineering humanitarian organization headquartered in Atlanta.

Contact: Jessica Otitigbe
Phone: (518) 276-6050