Honors College student Joshua Walsh is interested in energy of all kinds: solar, wind, nuclear, biomass and hydro. 
So, although he started out as a chemical engineering major, which can lead to a graduate degree in nuclear engineering, he soon switched his major to environmental engineering. That gave him a chance to take a wider variety of classes, he says. He’s also minoring in energy engineering.
“I wanted to do more renewable sources instead of nuclear,” says Walsh, who is from Merrimac, Massachusetts.
As a junior, he signed up for an Honors College seminar, Science and Technology for an Impoverished World, taught by Physics Prof. Robert Giles, founder and director of the university’s Haiti Development Studies Center
Walsh talked to Giles after class one day about ideas for a project. Giles suggested that he take on a real-world challenge: designing a clean drinking water system for a nonprofit children’s center in the poorest neighborhood of Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s capital city. The center needed a system that would clean 1,500 gallons of water a week, not just for its own use, but to sell to people in the community to raise money for its programs.
Walsh jumped in with enthusiasm. But he says the design he presented as his final class project was “horrible.” The water disinfection system required a UV lamp with a bulb that costs $100 and would have to be replaced every year – and shipped from the U.S.
“It was too expensive for a nonprofit that can’t get that much money every year,” he says. “One of the major aspects of Prof. Giles’s class is the sustainability of a project: If it’s too complicated or expensive, then eventually it will break down and not be used.”
Walsh didn’t give up, though. Over the summer and fall of 2020 he redesigned it, based on another nonprofit’s open-source design for a slow sand water filter. He says the resulting system will be able to purify and store 700 gallons of water a day. Walsh is also working on plans for a solar microgrid to power the water pump and a solar hot water heater. 
He hopes to go to Haiti with Giles and other student researchers once travel becomes safe so that he can visit the center, see the conditions and start installation. The project is his honors capstone.
As a senior, he’s taking Giles’s new honors seminar, The Science of Energy, and a graduate class in Nanomaterials for Energy. He plans to earn a master’s degree and then work in solar, wind or hydro-engineering.
He says the two honors seminars and his graduate class have helped him to think practically and critically about the challenges of renewable energy, as well as social values and ethics.
“I don’t think people realize how much things need to change in our society to make renewable energy viable,” he says. “Switching over your source isn’t enough. Especially as Americans, we need to change our behavior and use less energy.”