Ransom Everglades upper schoolers heard an inspiring talk from Alice Min Soo Chun, an inventor, architect, environmentalist and CEO of Solight Design, who spoke at an assembly in honor of International Women's Day at the Lewis Family Auditorium on March 8. Min Soo Chun explained how she got into the business of fashioning sustainable, solar-powered lights and phone chargers for disaster victims around the world – and she let students know they, too, could use their creativity to make a difference.
While walking through streets in Haiti that had been devastated by the 2010 earthquake, Min Soo Chun, then a Professor in Architecture and Material Technology at Columbia University, saw the need for solar-powered lanterns that would help families and children and that, unlike kerosene heaters, would not emit toxic fumes.
Her idea grew into Solar Puffs, collapsible lights that have been distributed to earthquake victims in Nepal, hurricane victims in Puerto Rico and Dominica, refugees in Syria and on the Colombian border, and disaster victims in other nations. Awarded the U.S. Patent Award for Humanity, she has seen her work exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.
She came to RE at the behest of the student group Women's Empowered, whose student leaders – vice president Sofia Gudino Ruffa '23 and secretary Rebecca Gotterer '22 – introduced her and shared information about International Women's Day and Women's History Month. Min Soo Chun rued the fact that women hold only three percent of the patents listed by the U.S. Patent Office. She tried to reframe the concept of invention, telling students it wasn’t about access to high-tech tools.
“Technology isn’t about circuitry and software or the internet,” Min Soo Chun said. “It’s really about the art, the poetics of making.”
Her biggest emphasis as she spoke to upper schoolers was making sure they understood that they, too, could better the world. She explained that she was inspired to develop reproducible products that reduced pollution when she learned her son, Quinn, had asthma. “There’s a saying: ‘a worried mom does better research than the FBI,’” she said.
“You are fierce and strong and full of fire, and not even you can hold yourself back,” she said. “Your passion burns brighter than your fears.”
Her latest invention is the SEEUS95 mask, which is biodegradable, transparent and self-adhering. She said the mask required 256 prototypes, 80 of which she fashioned in her kitchen during lockdown. Her kitchen, she explained, “looked like a meth lab." The effort was worth it. The mask will be available soon.
“I’m just a poor Korean girl that had the privilege of having a great education. If I can do it, anyone can do it,” she said. “The sun is the most powerful source of energy that comes to the earth every day. But the light of your imagination is more powerful than the sun.”
Founded in 1903, Ransom Everglades School is a coeducational, college preparatory day school for grades 6 - 12 located on two campuses in Coconut Grove, Florida. Ransom Everglades School produces graduates who "believe that they are in the world not so much for what they can get out of it as for what they can put into it." The school provides rigorous college preparation that promotes the student's sense of identity, community, personal integrity and values for a productive and satisfying life, and prepares the student to lead and to contribute to society.