An Enterprising 11 Year Old Is Building Our Renewable Energy Future
Bravo measuring windspeed at the beach. Photo: Tammy
NEW ORLEANS—There were more than 20,000
scientists in New Orleans for the American Geophysical Union’s
(AGU) annual meeting earlier this week, thousands of whom gave
talks. Despite stiff competition, I feel confident saying
Alexia Bravo gave one of the best.
At 11 years old, she was the youngest person at the annual
meeting, but she presented her poster about small-scale
renewable energy like a seasoned pro. Then again, that makes
sense as this is her second AGU, a conference that brings
together Earth scientists from around the world to learn from
each other and foster collaborations. If her passion for
research and solving the world’s biggest problem is any
indication, we should probably just turn over running the
planet to the next generation right now.
Bravo’s poster this year was a follow up on her work last year,
which explored harnessing wave energy. This year, her prototype
has expanded to look at wind and solar as well. It’s what a
rational all-of-the-above energy strategy should look like
(seriously, if any Trump administration officials are reading,
check it out).
Alexia Bravo presenting her poster on small-scale
renewable energy at AGU. Image: Brian Kahn
Last year, she created a prototype made of copper wire, PVC
tubing, and ping pong balls to capture the vertical wave
energy. It involved plunging into the frigid waters of the
Pacific a few hours from her home in Vancouver, Wash. While her
experiment generated some power, she knew she would need to
generate more and incorporate technologies that could gather
energy in locations not on the coast.
So over the past year, she tested a water wheel design to
capture some of that horizontal wave energy. But as the project
progressed, she figured why stop there. Why not swing for the
fences and gather as much renewable energy as possible? After
all, the world’s carbon pollution problem requires radical
solutions if we’re to keep climate change from making the world
She began by prototyping a few wind turbine designs out of
paper mache and tested them in front of a fan. She also
measured wind speed at the beach. Turns out the lower to the
water, the weaker the winds.
“I think I’ll have to reconsider my original design based on
the data,” she told Earther. “I might have to take the wind out
because what’s the point of spending on that stuff when you
could have something else.”
Bravo testing her wave energy generation prototype.
Photo: Tammy Bravo
Next up was solar panels. Bravo analyzed the best angle to set
a small array to maximize power generation and made sure the
solar panels were waterproof.
goal is to combine all these technologies into one deployable,
The result is an evolving renewable energy juggernaut, slowly
picking up steam to gather the maximum amount of energy from
freely available resources without emitting a speck of carbon
dioxide. The inspiration for thinking outside the box came from
wind energy-generating tree a French firm developed that
can generate enough juice in a year to power an electric car to
drive 10,000 miles.
“Only 10 percent [of U.S. electricity] comes from renewable
energy. I thought that wasn’t enough,” she said. “I thought
that on a small-scale, I could take one house of the grid at a
But what inspired Bravo to undertake this project in the first
place was a desire to reduce the impacts of climate change.
She’s particularly concerned about ocean acidification on
marine life (which she has also studied because she is a true
Bravo was presenting as part of a group of Bright Students
Training as Research Scientists (the wonderfully clunky
acronym-ed Bright STaRS), which featured 75 students presenting
60 posters this year on topics ranging from a
self-navigating wheel chair to
microplastics in the Gulf of Mexico to measuring the
width of the East African Rift system.
The session, which has happened every year since 2002, is open
for K-12 students but the majority of the students were high
schoolers. Joan Burhman, the director of AGU’s strategic
communications department, told Earther that Bravo was the
first 10 year old in recent memory to present at the conference
last year, but that engaging her and other students is an
important part of the meeting.
“AGU is committed to developing a strong and diverse pool of
talented researchers who can help us build a sustainable
foundation for the future, and our Fall Meeting attendees
recognize the importance of supporting the next generation of
Earth scientists,” she said.
Not to get all Whitney Houston, but truly the children are our
future. In a world full of cynicism and where every day brings
fresh horrors, Alexia Bravo and the rest of students asking
vital questions are a reminder that if we manage to not mess
things up too much more, the world could be in much better
This is disruption with a purpose, creative thinking to solve
actual problems. This type of stuff gives me life. Let them
lead the way.