I’m interested in sustainability in all facets: energy, resources, equity, and collaboration and community building especially with people in developing countries. In what I see as an imminent transition in energy, resources, and information, I am interested in both the technologies and the related societal transitions. I transitioned to sustainability research from nanotechnology in 2006 due to a realization after I purchased a house for the first time: that I would now hold myself accountable for the way I live. The changes to our house and lifestyle make our home a laboratory, documented in this video and this book chapter. Subsequently, I took sabbatical in the Energy and Resources Group at UC, Berkeley. Besides physics, I teach classes on Appropriate Technology, and Energy, Society, and the Environment. My classes are “flipped” with all instruction from online videos, freely available on my Shared Curriculum Website.
Our research team develops radically inexpensive DDS (Direct DC Solar): using DC electricity directly from solar panels. Simple “Moore’s Law” extrapolation of the well-established price decrease of both photovoltaic (PV) panels and integrated circuits will render these technologies essentially free. Already the cost of PV panels is a small portion of the cost related to PV deployment. How will free solar electricity and micro processing affect the way we use energy? My students and I work with these and other energy/environmental/society questions with implementations at my home, on campus, at the Student Experimental Farm (where I was the projects facilitator for six years until 2019) and with partners in communities in nonindustrial countries.
One particular interest is cooking in poor countries. Presently the traditional “3 stone fires” consume resources, tax families’ time and financial resources, produce CO2 and emit other pollutants. Our Photovoltaic Electric Cooking can displace biomass fires and the associated deforestation and indoor air pollution responsible for an estimated 4 million deaths annually – more than malaria and AIDS combined. The technology is briefly described in this publication and video. Our research group and students from appropriate technology classes are exploring opportunities to collaboratively introduce these technologies along with domestic lighting and cell phone charging systems at the grass roots level with AidAfrica in Uganda, SolCook in Ghana, and WAEV in Tanzania and Kenya.
I am also exploring an alternative way to teach physics classes, and in particular for introductory mechanics where I have invoked what I call “Parallel Pedagogy” (where concepts are developed simultaneously) in a flipped classroom methodology based on video lectures. I describe the learning style in this paper in The Physics Teacher and in this short video. All my materials for the class can be accessed via this website. I’ve also developed a video curriculum for Energy, Society, and the Environment, a class I’ve directed since 2007. These classes and the websites are under continual development, and I’m happy to communicate with interested instructors.
About our home by Erin Grasty