Cal Poly Student’s Poster Presentation Earns First Place at MIT Symposium

A Cal Poly industrial technology major won the student poster competition for a presentation on insulated solar electric cooking at MIT’s sixth annual Clean Energy Education and Empowerment (C3E) Women in Clean Energy Symposium.

Madison Fleming, a Santa Barbara native who is also minoring in sustainable environments, competed against graduate student teams from Columbia, Harvard, MIT, Princeton, Stanford, UC Berkley and Yale. She was the only undergraduate student presenting in the competition held last fall.

Fleming is part of a team researching solar stoves for the global poor through Cal Poly’s appropriate technology courses. Small solar panels power a slow cooker and eliminate deadly emissions from open fires often used for indoor cooking, she said. Globally, 4 million people — mostly women and children — die each year from illnesses attributed to indoor cooking fumes from burning coal or biomass.

The research team’s solution is an inexpensive, low-power solar panel combined with an insulated cooking device would provide a cost-effective, efficient cooking method for communities lacking access to electricity.

“What distinguishes Maddi is her dedication and ownership of the project as well as the breadth of her vision including technology, business and sociology considerations,” said Pete Schwartz, a Cal Poly physics professor leading the appropriate technology curriculum. “Because she has a broad understanding of every aspect of the project, she connects with others and presents our work well, which is likely responsible for her win at MIT.”

Schwartz worked with Fleming and 10 other students to coauthor research on solar stoves — titled “Insulated Solar Electric Cooking — Tomorrow’s healthy affordable stoves?” — that appeared in the journal Development Engineering. Several members of the team were recipients of Cal Poly’s Frost Undergraduate Student Research Award.

The group worked with a school and the nonprofit organization Aid Africa to refine their prototype and use resources appropriate to cultural norms of the region. Fleming and three classmates spent a month in a community in Uganda learning about village life and introducing two cooking prototypes in 2016. The trip was made possible by the Warren J. Baker and Robert D. Koob Endowments.

“Hopefully, we will be returning this summer to implement upwards of 100 insulated solar electric cooking units,” Fleming said. “This is my last year at Cal Poly, but I look forward to continuing my ties with this project and seeing how future students and Professor Schwartz continue to develop this technology.”

The C3E initiative and symposium was started in 2010 by the 25-government Clean Energy Ministerial to increase the number of women in science fields and recognize that all members of society are essential to tackle clean energy challenges. The event unites students and professional women with other governments to build a network. For more information, visit