Ryan was taken with Muhammad’s story, especially because as a teenager, Ryan had visited a very similar landfill community in Mexico with his grandmother.
“During our talk, the idea struck us that decomposing organic garbage gives off methane gas and, given the fact that these residents are already sorting through the refuse, a methane-based power plant could help supply electricity to these communities,” Ryan recalls.
But how would you build such a facility? Would you even want to? Would the people there even want to? Muhammad and Ryan realized they were already at a prime place to explore those questions: Rutgers.
So, they started the em[POWER] project, working together to organize people, knowledge, and resources at Rutgers—and pulled in other universities including Princeton; the University of California, Berkeley; William and Mary; and NED University in Karachi—to outline a renewable energy plan that might help the people at this landfill as they try to build a self-sustaining community.
Since its start three years ago, em[POWER] has made great strides and gathered a lot of momentum but still has a tremendous amount of work to do. Ryan recently traveled to Nigeria, where he was able to garner additional support and collaborators. The group is sponsoring on the New Brunswick Campus an art exhibition, Discarded Thoughts, on April 19, featuring artwork from the children who live and attend school at the landfill, and a lecture, Wasteland to Homeland, on April 26 about landfill communities that also touches on issues of poverty and climate change.
Ryan expresses amazement at the support the group has gotten through Rutgers as it studies a problem and then works to take an idea that can help people and tries to build a real-world solution. Learn more about em[POWER] and the Rutgers chapter of the organization.
Ryan’s current academic work involves nanophotonics, or the behavior of light on a nanoscale. After graduating from Rutgers with a B.S. in electrical and computer engineering and working for a few years at IBM, Ryan returned to New Brunswick on a fellowship and is finishing up study toward a Ph.D. in the electrical and computer engineering program, under Assistant Professor Wei Jiang.
“It’s a privilege to work with Professor Jiang. He’s insightful and visionary and has really helped me grow. The projects he’s working on have tremendous implications for the future,” Ryan says. A better understanding of the behavior of light may lead to more efficient solar cells, optical computing, and medical sensor applications. “Photonics may not be well known now, but then neither was electronics 80 years ago,” he adds.