Nerd Girls Hit the Islands!
Thacher Island Renewable Energy Project

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More pictures can be found in the gallery.
















Do Engineers sit in cubicles all day solving math problems and staring at a computer?


This is just one of the myths that the Nerd Girls are breaking about engineers.

In our free time, we like to do all the things that “normal” people do, like sports, music, dance, shopping and hanging out with our friends. We don’t live on the computer or in laboratories and we are doing fun and cool stuff.

Our latest project is working on Thacher Island, situated off the coast of Rockport, Massachusetts. It is the last operating Twin Light House in the United States. This historic landmark is owned by the Town of Rockport and is intended for educational and conservation purposes. It has two buildings in addition to the two lighthouses. One building is a keeper’s house and the other is a guesthouse. The Island is also home to fish and wildlife and a portion of the Island is overseen by the National Fish and Wildlife organization.

Providing power and potable water has always been an issue on the Island.

Fresh water is collected and has some filtration, yet it is not recommended for drinking since it is contaminated with wildlife waste. It’s actually gross!

There is a 6000-foot power cable, like a giant extension cord, running from the coast of Rockport into the Atlantic Ocean to the Island. Unfortunately, this power line has been severed due to the strong ocean currents and repaired many times. It is believed that water has seeped into the power line and the amount of electricity reaching the island is far less than is expended on the land side of the cable.

The Nerd Girl Team is creating alternative energy systems on the island for everything from; powering the lighthouse lights, running all the appliances in the houses, running the septic pump, heating the hot water, providing freshwater and even powering the electric car that is used to haul materials and take us “cruising” around the island.

The Island will become a banner program for the United States in renewable energy education and help preserve this National Landmark’s status as the last operating Twin Lighthouse in the United States. There are many inhabited islands off the coast of the United States that share the same energy issues as ThacherIsland. Getting fuel and resources to these islands is difficult and expensive. There is a need for practical, low-cost, efficient alternatives. This project will research methods for generating Hydrogen for water and harnessing Solar, Wind, and Wave Energy to provide energy to the two houses on the Island. We will also investigate whether it is possible to generate excess power and sell it back to the power companies.

For the past two years, Dr. Panetta has run the Nerd Girls engineering team of undergraduate students that have been researching solar energy and designing their own solar vehicle. The goals of the program are to build confidence in young women and make them aware of the exciting careers in renewable energy technology and engineering. The team of students also serves as role models for younger students by dispelling the stereotypes of women in engineering as “geeks”. The team consists of multi-talented young ladies that are outstanding in sports, dance, music, theater, writing and engineering.

To disseminate the Nerd Girls project to the world, we’ve teamed up with Award Winning Documentary producer, Karen Johnson who is creating a reality series on the Nerd Girls and their adventures.

Cool Companies and Foundations like the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative, Tycoelectronics/MACOM Inc. and Teradyne Inc. funded the team and as a result, over 5000 Massachusetts school children, their parents and communities have been introduced to engineering. Young boys and girls also see that engineers are normal kids sharing the same interests and activities as they do. They learned how math and science skills are used by engineers to design new inventions to improve the quality of life for society and our environment and that we are not gross, socially inept geeks with no lives outside of our engineering skills.

The Nerd Girls are completing the implementation of their second solar vehicle. We envision this program evolving to include more research in all the renewable energy areas. Serving a community with a real need for alternative energy is very attractive and will provide many new research areas to investigate. The students will also learn about cost trade-offs to develop low-cost systems and understand how the systems they propose must be synergistic with the environment and the communities in which they will be used. We believe this will make the project sustainable and allow more students to participate in the program and bring attention to renewable energy on a grand scale.