Cal Poly physics professors Peter Schwartz and Nathan Heston approached the Solar Freeze team with the problem that remote communities in Africa have limited access to modern-day medicine or vaccines. They suggested that we try and design a cooling device that can keep vaccines cold for multiple days at a time while the medicine is transported to remote villages. Due to the fact that Peter and Nate have done extensive research and laboratory experiments with using a solar panel to power thermo-electric coolers, they suggested that a thermo-electric cooler should be used to keep the cooler cold. The Solar Freeze team’s goal is to design a solarpowered vaccine cooler that utilizes thermo-electric coolers to freeze a phase change material and keep vaccines at optimal temperature. While all specifications set forth at the beginning of this project were not entirely met (including the important specification of maintaining temperature for 12 hours at a time), the team would by no means consider this project a failure. This project highlighted the ability of using a Peltier to effectively cool a system in a manner that consumes a little more power than a standard lightbulb. It also highlighted the potential that phase change materials have for thermal storage. Also, with the increased availability of double-walled vacuum flasks and their desirable insulation properties, the project provided insight into the possibility of using these for vaccine transport instead of typical Styrofoam coolers used today. A big area where the project struggled was maintaining the vaccine temperature once fully charged. This was due to the fact that a large portion of the design process was focused on making sure the Peltier would be able to remove heat from the PCM, freeze it entirely, and cool the vaccine chamber to the specified temperature.
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