Origami-inspired folding solar-powered light that charges your phone

Innovative solar-powered light has helped earthquake victims around the world and now comes with phone-charging function.
Shubhangi Dua
Alice Min Soo Chun with her Solight Design inventions
Alice Min Soo Chun with her Solight Design inventions

Alice Min Soo Chun / Solight Design  

As a little girl growing up in Seoul, Korea and then upstate New York, inventor Alice Min Soo Chun spent days with her mother learning origami and how a simple fold could become structured.

She went on to study Architecture at Penn State and earned her Masters at the University of Pennsylvania.

Following emerging trends for smarter, lighter and more sustainable manufacturing, Min Soo Chun began experimenting with solar panels sewn to fabric in a bid to harness solar power for use with softer and more malleable materials.

She became focused on clean energy and solar technology in particular, when her son was diagnosed with asthma. It was while teaching as a Professor of Architecture and Material Technology at Columbia University that she created early prototypes of solar lights, with the help of her students.

Min Soo Chun told IE, "I was teaching at Columbia University when the Haiti earthquake happened, and there was a spike in natural disasters in connection to climate change, so I decided to step in and say, that's enough!"

"Our research in Haiti showed that it was really a microcosm of what was happening globally because countries in extreme poverty were using kerosene to light their world at night" she said.

168 prototypes, and three years of field testing in Haiti later, she finally launched the SolarPuff - billed as the "the world’s only self-inflatable, portable solar light" - following a hugely successful Kickstarter campaign.

She has since gone on to help provide free lights to refugees and earthquake victims in Haiti, Peru, Nepal, Puerto Rico, Liberia and, most recently to those suffering the effects of the brutal war in Ukraine.

You can hear more about Alice Min Soo Chun's incredible journey in the latest episode of the Lexicon podcast below:

Min Soo Chun's latest development is a slightly larger version of the SolarPuff that incorporates a larger solar panel, providing enough power to charge a phone through its USB-C port.

According to Min Soo Chun's company, Solight Designs, the MegaPuff is designed to "illuminate vast spaces, making it ideal for outdoor gatherings, camping adventures, and emergency situations where maximum visibility is crucial".

Origami-inspired folding solar-powered light that charges your phone
Charge your phone using solar power when travelling

Made from recyclable PET sailcloth, Solight says the MegaPuff is "PVC-free", and made with non-toxic materials.

According to Solight, the MegPuff is also waterproof and provides up to 150 hours of light on low settings, and continuous lighting with 8-10 hours of charging in bright sunlight.

Min Soo Chun told IE: "I was inspired by the origami balloon. I'm Korean, so the technique of folding paper is basically structuring, forming, proportioning, and mathematics – all rolled into one art."

The MegaPuff she went on, is "extremely light. It doesn't take up any room and it gives light all night. You don't need any batteries, of course, or fuel. You just need the power of the sun."

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