Solar Powered Girl Power

by Hutchison Horticulturist Mary Riddle
Have you ever been so bowled over by the brilliance of a teen that it leaves you speechless?
Last fall I was busily tucking tiny kale seeds into the warm soil of the Hutchison farm, when a freshman girl wandered in through the gate.

"Hi, Mrs. Riddle! My name is Elizabeth. I've designed a solar-powered vegetable wash station that will allow us to capture the gray water from the sink into a cylindrical chamber that will clean the water using a small motor and a UV filtration system. Would you like to see it?"

Me: [blink, blink]

"I've created a budget for it and preliminary blueprints."

Me: [jaw falls slightly agape.]

Pulling myself together, I ask her which class this is for, and who's giving her credit for this.

"Oh no," she says, "I'm doing this just for fun."

For fun, I later find out, in between her classes, quiz bowl competitions, and running tech for two school plays, but I digress.

Working with Henry Hampton, our Physical Plant Director, Elizabeth fine-tuned her idea and got her plan and budget approved. She decided that she wanted her station to be useful and educational, so she added a component to capture and sanitize rain water, because, as she said, "it's important for us to learn about water conservation."

Parts were ordered, and the plan was set in motion. Elizabeth came out to the school over the course of three weeks during her summer vacation to build her design. Two wonderful members of the Hutchison maintenance staff, Carnell Benton and Napoleon Logan, helped Elizabeth with the build every step of the way. Even on 100 degree days, she could be found at the top of a ladder, nailing shingles into a roof, or unloading the latest shipment of lumber. She ran the show with grit and grace.

During the second week of school this fall with several second and fourth grade classes watching, she climbed up onto the roof of her building and installed the solar panel. In a few minutes, the battery was charged up enough to get the pump moving. Elizabeth collected rainwater in barrels over the summer, and with the flip of a switch, the rain water was pumped through her invention and into the sink. (I was able to wash a whole crate of cucumbers just using filtered rain water. That was a first for me!)

The younger kids (and, let's be honest, all of the adults) were stunned, and I could see the gears in their heads starting to turn. The girls were full of questions. Their hands shot up in the air like popcorn as they asked her things like, "Did you have to make several versions of your plan, or did you get it right the first time?" and "How do solar panels work?" and "Where does the water go once it's used?" Elizabeth may have inspired an entire new generation of budding scientists and engineers!

One of the greatest things about working with kids and teens is that they show you on a daily basis to never underestimate them. With just a little bit of support and the proper resources, Elizabeth was able to invent something new and useful. I can't wait to see how she changes the world. Way to go, Elizabeth!


Hutchison’s educational urban farm program enables girls of all ages to apply what they are discovering in the classroom through hands-on activities in nature, thus providing them with an in-depth educational experience. Horticulturist Mary Riddle provides firsthand knowledge about our natural resources and the impact our actions have on the environment while providing real-life learning experiences to teach our girls.

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