Victor Vetterlein has always been interested in sustainability. The Philadelphia native is well known for his recyclable lighting, which ranges from biodegradable bamboo chandeliers to egg-crate office lamps.
But when he became a father earlier this year, he found his perspective as a designer had changed. “I began to think about how design could be used to teach children,” says Vetterlein, who grew up in a family of engineers and designers. Remembering how his early exposure to their ideas had shaped his interest in architecture, he set out to design an everyday object that could engage kids with ideas about sustainability. Vetterlein recently unveiled the finished product: Free Power, a lamp that’s a learning tool and light in one.
Vetterlein, like any good teacher, knows that kids learn by doing. Free Power demonstrates how photovoltaics work by letting children actually handle them. The desktop lamp–shaped like a little gabled house–is powered by a tiny half-watt solar panel nestled in the roof. The panel is connected to an LED lamp that lights up when it’s fully charged. Kids can take the panel out, place it in direct sunlight, and reattach it for around four hours of light. A USB power converter in the back provides insurance against inevitable rainy days.
Exciting children about the conversion of solar radiation into electricity is no small feat. But by letting kids harvest their own energy, Vetterlein says he hopes he’ll be inspiring a lifelong interest in “the free and unlimited power provided by Mother Nature.”