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In the Navajo Community, One Teen Scientist Shines

Teen scientist harnesses sun power to help Navajo community

Growing up on New Mexico’s Navajo Nation, Raquel Redshirt was well aware of the needs of her community. Many of her impoverished neighbors lacked basics such as electricity, as well as stoves and ovens to cook food. Though resources in the high desert are limited, Raquel realized one was inexhaustible: the sun. “That’s where I got the idea of building a solar oven,” the teen says.

Affordable design

She researched solar ovens and found that most incorporate mirrors or other expensive materials. Raquel wanted to create a design that anyone could easily afford and replicate, using readily available materials. She built and tested ovens made of old tires, cardboard, aluminum foil, tape, and insulating materials, including shredded paper and plain old dirt.

Woman stands facing sunset in native american dress

Research wins chance to compete

Raquel took her research to the National American Indian Science and Engineering Fair in Albuquerque, where she won a chance to compete with 1,500 other young scientists from around the world at the 2011 Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (Intel ISEF), a program of Society for Science & the Public, in Los Angeles.

Face of Raquel Redshirt

National American Indian Science & Engineering Fair

Her Intel ISEF project, "Improving the Heat Capacity of Homemade Solar Ovens," captured a special award—an educational and cultural trip to Germany.

Raquel Redshirt accepts award on stage

Achieving her dreams

Raquel is now well on her way to achieving her dreams: "I want to become an environmental engineer," she says. "I want to go to a big university and see the world, and come back and give to my community someday—and maybe change some lives while I’m doing it."

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