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Sudha Kheterpal: Music inspires innovation, creative synergy for renewable energy devices

Several Lamar University students are engaged in “real world” work at Lamar University’s Center for Innovation, Commercialization and Entrepreneurship (CICE) thanks to a partnership with world-renowned pop musician Sudha Kheterpal and her vision for a device to harness the sun’s energy while engaging the power of music and education.

Entrepreneurship isn’t new to the British Indian percussionist who has been the heartbeat of electronic and pop bands for more than 20 years. Her music resume includes work with internationally known electronica and pop musicians like the Spice Girls, Faithless, Dido and others. “I was very humbled to play in front of hundreds of thousands of people quite regularly internationally,” she said. “I’d often wonder if the energy of the crowd could be harnessed and used for anything else and used for social good.”

Student groupA few years ago, her understanding of the genuine need for renewable energy and potential of using energy created from music, gave rise to her founding Shake Your Power, an organization that seeks to bring clean energy to places in the world without electricity.

“There was one occasion at an electronica gig that I was performing at where the crowd stomped their feet so hard in time with the music that they caused an earthquake. That was really the pivotal moment when I thought ‘I’ve got to look into this. Can we do anything with this energy?’”

It was around that time that she was introduced to Diana Simpson Hernandez. She is now head of industrial design and strategy at Shake Your Power, and founder of Designers for Humanity, a platform for designers seeking to tackle some of the most pressing environmental issues today.

“She’s a great voice in product design and development and has won us several awards,” she said. When they met, they talked about the idea to “create an instrument that uses the kinetic energy in playing it for electricity.”

Out of that conversation came the SPARK device and a Kick Starter campaign that provided crowd funding that enabled a trip to Kenya to test the prototype.

“It was then that we saw an incredible need not only for electricity for light but also for mobile phone charging,” she said. In Kenya, three quarters of the population lives without electricity and just as many have a mobile phone.

Beyond the immediate need to charge mobile phones, Kheterpal recognized that “the biggest impact of what we were doing would be through education. By showing young people how to put their own mini SPARK together, they could really learn to understand such things as entrepreneurship, renewable energy, and STEM, — science, technology, engineering and math.”

“All of that was being done through this lovely medium of music,” Kheterpal said. “We found that has been a real connector for young people.”

Students working at CICEFast forward to today’s meetings in the CICE where she and Hernandez were “at Lamar University developing the SolarMC, an exciting educational tool for young people whereby they can build their own solar mobile phone charger,” Kheterpal said.

The proof-of-concept is complete, she said. Now, Shake Your Power is exploring, with the help of LU electrical engineering students, decisions on how it will be put it together, the cost of components and whether to use a printed circuit board or breadboard-style perfboard. The device will include a solar panel, charger, connection for cellular phone and a speaker case to amplify the sound.

“With the device, the user would be able to charge their phones and enhance the ability to listen to music,” she said.

“We’re exploring some of these ideas with some electrical engineering students here at Lamar, and also looking at the marketing aspects,” she said.

The marketing students, who are taking a course under Paul Latiolais, director of the CICE, are developing plans for educational and retail marketing of the device on behalf of Shake Your Power. Business majors Nicolette Tate of Nederland, Ramee Biffle of Vidor, Taylor Chatagnier of Groves and Patricia Lauritzen of El Paso, along with graduate student Kristeen Reynolds of Port Arthur, are working on the marketing plans.

“Because we’re a mission-led company, the social good element and the purpose is very important to us,” she said. “We want to encourage young innovators to really think about solving real world problems.”

“When George Saltsman (LU’s director of Digital Learning) presented Shake Your Power to our class, we knew instantly that this was the perfect challenge for us! Creating the marketing plan was a very unique and educational process,” Biffle said.

While the project provides the elements common to any marketing plan, “we’re taking it one step further by asking the marketing students here to consider the social good aspect,” Kheterpal said.

“As a college student, one rarely has the opportunity to work on an assignment that offers such real-world experience while also advocating for social good,” Biffle said. “The team and I are very grateful to have had the privilege to play a part in something that has the potential to make such a positive impact on so many lives.”

Kheterpal sees potential for the device to bring the world closer together by pairing schools in building the devices and developing “a lovely interchange between schools. For example, a science class in Port Arthur could be paired with a school in rural Mexico both building the SolarMC. There could be a widening of learning outcomes as students learn about life in other places and how we can solve real-world problems together through innovation.”

“Take that one step further,” she said. “You can create music with your phone with applications like Garage Band. We’d like to encourage refugee camps to set up a music challenge for the best tune to come out of a camp, to share with a twin school, perhaps in Texas, as a way to add to global understanding and a fun way to get into STEM.”

“There are lots of interesting things that we’re exploring and certainly being here at Lamar with some of the students has been really great for us,” Kheterpal said.