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Plugged In

More than wires - exploring the connections between energy, environment, and our lives

Windmills Show the Power of Access to Knowledge


In 2001, in the face of a widespread famine, a then 14 year-old Malawian William Kamkwamba decided to find a way to secure a better future for his family. After he was forced to drop out of secondary school due to the tuition requirements, William used a local library to glean as much knowledge as he could from its books. And, through physics textbooks and engineering journals, William found a way to provide his family with a more secure and prosperous future.

In the library, William learned about the physics behind wind energy. Inspired by diagrams and pictures of windmill designs, William decided to build two of these machines. The first provided electricity to power his family's home. The second provided an arguably more valuable commodity - a constant supply of drinking and irrigation water for his family's farm.

William constructed his windmills using spare parts and available scrap materials, including bicycle frames and wood. The end result can be seen in the pictures that William showed in this TED talk:

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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