In Brief
  • A 13-year-old student has developed solar leaves that are able to harness vibrational energy to create power that is entirely clean.
  • The design harvests energy from precipitation, wind, and sunlight using a solar cell and piezoelectric material, and it costs just five dollars.

Maanasa Mendu thinks she’s cracked the code on how to make wind and solar energy affordable.

On Tuesday, Mendu – a 13-year-old from Ohio – won the grand prize in the Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge for her work in creating a cost-effective ‘solar leaves’ design to create energy. In addition to winning the title of America’s Top Young Scientist, she gets $25,000 for her achievement.

The leaves, designed to help developing areas in need of cheaper power sources, cost roughly US $5 to make.

Over the past three months, Mendu and nine other finalists worked on their projects alongside a mentor provided by 3M.

Mendu was inspired to come up with a cheaper way to produce energy after visiting India, where she saw many people who lacked access to affordable clean water and electricity. Originally, her intent was to harness only wind energy.

Here’s what the product looked like when Mendu entered the competition:

Maanasa Mendu via YouTube
Maanasa Mendu via YouTube

But along the way, Mendu, with the help of her 3M mentor Margauz Mitera, shifted to a different kind of energy collection. Drawing inspiration from how plants function, she decided to focus on creating solar leaves that harnessed vibrational energy.

Here’s how it works: her ‘leaves’ can pick up energy from precipitation, wind, and even sunlight using a solar cell and piezoelectric material (the part of the leaf that picks up on the vibrations). These are then transformed into usable energy.

Here’s what the finished product looked like:

Courtesy 3M
Courtesy 3M

Now that the competition is over, Mendu said she wants to develop the prototype further and conduct more tests so that one day she can make it available commercially.