'Honey, is the stove free? I need to charge my phone.': Eighth-grader's 'Charging Pan' named regional finalist in Google Science Fair

Terrance Li with his Charging Pan. - Courtesy Photo
Terrance Li with his Charging Pan.
— image credit: Courtesy Photo

Terrance Li, an eighth-grader from Odle Middle School, has been named a regional finalist in the Google Science Fair for his prototype heat-to-electricity converter.

The prototype, which Li has dubbed “The Charging Pan,” is a common cooking pan modified to collect the heat radiating from recently powered down appliances and machinery, and convert it into enough electricity to charge small electronic devices, such as a smartphone.

“I noticed that after my mom cooks, the stove would still be really, really hot,” Li said. “And I thought about how a lot of machinery in the world is very inefficient in that way.”

The invention operates under the Seebeck effect, the direct conversion of temperature differences in metals into electric current.

Li began plans for the Charging Pan near the end of 2013 and continuously worked until a week before Google’s deadline. His first hiccup came in the testing phase, when he discovered metallic expansion under heat was causing the prototype to warp and break. But the solution was easy enough: loosen some screws to make room for the size difference.

When all was said and done, Li’s pan was able to harvest enough electricity to charge an iPhone, a battery bank, 19 LED bulbs and an electric fan.

The 13-year-old was eager to find out how he fared in the fair regionals, and stayed up until midnight to read the results online.

“But because it was so late, when I read the results I was just tired and went right to sleep,” he said.

Li is a member of Odle’s math club and belongs to a group of students who meet and discuss articles on scientific subjects on a weekly basis. He is interested in the principles of thermodynamics, as well as computer science.

He has additionally been nominated for the Fair’s Science in Action award, a $50,000 prize sponsored by Scientific American. Winners for the prize will be announced Aug. 6.


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