The STAR School Wins Science Prize for Low-Cost Cooler Design

Jan 31, 2018

Summers on the Navajo Nation can be scorching, and many homes there don’t have air conditioners or swamp coolers. But a group of eighth grade students at The STAR School, near the edge of the Navajo Nation, has come up with a solution: a low-cost evaporative cooler they plan to give away to elders. As KNAU’s Melissa Sevigny reports, the project won a statewide science and technology prize.

The "cooler bucket" team with science teacher Kylie Morris (center) and IT person Robert McCann (left)
Credit Melissa Sevigny

Alize Stos, Gracelyn Nez, and Natasha Garcia are the community outreach team. It’s their job to find six people who need a cooler, especially one that will work in off-grid solar-powered homes. They’ve already chosen half of the recipients: their grandmothers.

Stos says, "My Nellie, her name is Lula, she’s on grid, but she can’t afford it, she’s getting old."

Nez says, "My Nellie, her name is Carolyn, she’s just getting one because during the summer it gets really hot over there."

Garcia says, "My grandma’s getting one and she lives at the reservation line."

Not all Navajo homes have access to electricity, and those that use solar power may not be able to run typical store-bought appliances. Natasha Garcia says in her grandmother’s house there’s really only one option when it’s hot: "When it’s windy, they open the windows and open the doors, so the air can flow."

Credit Melissa Sevigny

That’s why the students designed what they call a “cooler bucket,” an inexpensive evaporative cooler that can tuck into the corner of a room. It’s made out of two orange five gallon buckets stacked on top of one another.

Fourteen-year-old Ty Laughter shows off a prototype. "We fill up the bottom bucket with water… then the pump sucks up the water, it goes all the way through this hose. You gotta put little holes on the bottom so the water comes down, and drips on these cooling mats." 

A fan directs the stream of cool air. The design is meant to cost less than fifty dollars and draw so little energy it can run off a solar panel. It’ll make homes more comfortable and maybe even save lives.

We hear from our kids stories about having to go check on grandparents. - Kylie Morris

Science teacher Kylie Morris entered the project into Samsung’s “Solve for Tomorrow” contest, which asks students to come up with technological solutions to local problems. "We hear a lot about elderly people having to go to hospitals for heat stroke, and the houses out on the reservation, not all of them are very well insulated," she says. "We hear from our kids stories about having to go check on grandparents."

The cooler bucket won at the state level, and earned The STAR School twenty five thousand dollars’ worth of technology. And it’s in the running to be a national finalist. But the students don’t seem as interested in the prizes, as much as they are in helping elders they know.

It’s personal for many of the kids, including 14-year-old Savannah Store, who says, "My grandpa, he doesn’t have AC. He lives in Birch Springs, and it’s hotter there than it is in Leupp and Flagstaff. So it could help people like him who don’t have AC in their houses."

Samsung will select ten national finalists in March.

Last year, students from Snowflake Junior High in Arizona won a top prize in the competition.