MENOMONIE — Research by a UW-Stout student on improving electrical output in a hydroelectric generator could make a difference in the lives of impoverished residents of Malawi, and for that work he has won a national award.

Devon Manuele received a $1,200 scholarship recently at the National Role Models Conference in Washington, D.C. He took first place in the Minority Access 12th annual Undergraduate Student Research Competition in the engineering and technology category.

A junior in the  university’s applied science program and a McNair scholar, Manuele presented his research on increasing the efficiency of a small hydroelectric generator by studying the interaction of magnets and conductive material, which in this scenario was copper.

Manuele is from North Prairie, west of Milwaukee in Waukesha County.

“By helping and supporting the locals get access to electricity through their own hard work and our support, it increases their living standards and opportunities,” Manuele said.

Manuele’s research is part of a larger project begun in 2016 by UW-Stout operations and management professor Tom Lacksonsen, who went to Mzuzu, Malawi to gauge whether a prototype for a mini-hydroelectric generator could be economically mass produced there with available resources. 

The project is being conducted in collaboration with Hastings Mkwandwire, of Mzuzu, who visited UW-Stout in 2014 as part of the Young African Leaders Initiative.

Malawi, in southeastern Africa, is home to about 18 million people. Fewer than 2 million of that nation’s residents have access to electricity, which is almost nonexistent in rural areas. 

Streams in the mountains and jungles provide an ideal power source for hydroelectric generators, which use concentrated pressure and water flow to turn turbines or water wheels to drive an electric generator.

Manuele’s research could help build a more efficient template for the hydroelectric generator.

The plans then would be sent to Mkwandwire so the generator could be cast and produced in Malawi. 

UW-Stout professor Brian Finder has worked with Mzuzu residents on the casting process.

Funding for Manuele’s trip to Washington came from the McNair Scholars Program at UW-Stout, of which he is a member. 

His McNair research mentor is associate professor Matthew Ray from the department of chemistry and physics.

The research project also has received funding from Stout University Foundation and a student research grant through the Office of Research and Sponsored Programs at UW-Stout.

Other students who have helped with the project are Caleb Docter, an engineering technology student from Markesan; Eric Hulen, a manufacturing engineering student from Delafield; and 2016 graduate Josh Miller.