In Tibet, there are two ways to cook your food: an open fire fueled by yak dung or wood (which isn't exactly easy to obtain); or solar cookers, which consist of two-inch-thick concrete covered with tiny glass mirrors.
Fire produces lots of smoke that leads to lung disease in people who do most of their cooking indoors. Solar cookers are much cleaner, but are so heavy that they need 4 people just to move one. Plus their focus isn't always dead-on, which can damage food, cooking equipment and even start fires.
Scot Frank, a student at MIT, and Catlin Powers of Wellesley College took a trip to Tibet in 2006. One thing they heard regularly from the villagers is that life would be so much easier if there was a light mobile version of their solar cookers. This way they could go take care of their flocks or fields and still eat. But it need to be strong enough to handle the fierce winds that whip across the plateau.
Ask and you shall receive.
Some MIT students and some students from Qinghai Normal University in Tibet's Amdo region cooked up exactly what they were looking for. The cooker they made, which was inspired by the nomadic tents in the region, is made from yak-wool canvas panels, the supports are bamboo, and the dish is covered with a reflective mylar. It can be assembled and disassembled easily and one person can carry it. Plus it can be anchored to hold against the wind. The students will begin testing a prototype of the cooker this fall, and make it available for mass production in local factories.
The students called themselves SolSource Tibet, and entered MIT's yearly IDEAS comp., winning one of two Yunus Innovation Challenge awards and $3k to put towards the project.
The solar cooker cost about $17 to make and, for an additional $26, can be fitted with an extra attachment and used to heat homes.