Alice Min Soo Chun Brings Light to Remote Areas
Alice Min Soo Chun designed a solar-powered, portable, and collapsible lantern to reduce emissions and bring light to remote areas without electricity.
Alice Min Soo Chun is a woman on a mission to bring sustainable lighting solutions to people in need worldwide. Born in South Korea in 1965, Chun moved to the United States with her family in 1968 and spent much of her childhood in upstate New York before returning to South Korea as a teenager. She later moved back to the U.S. to study architecture at Penn State and then at the University of Pennsylvania, where she earned her master’s degree in architecture.
Alice Min Soo Chun with Hillary Rodham Clinton. Image used courtesy of Solight Design
Solar Energy Designs
Chun’s interest in solar energy began in 2006 when her son was diagnosed with asthma, which she learned was exacerbated by air pollution. At the time, she was a professor of architectural design and material technology at Columbia University. She decided to focus her work on solar technology, eventually developing her first inflatable solar light prototype in 2009. Three years later, Chun founded Solight Design, which specializes in creating sustainable, portable lighting solutions.
One of Solight Design’s most successful products is the SolarPuff, an inflatable, origami-inspired lantern powered by the sun. The SolarPuff is designed to be portable and easy to use, making it ideal for people living in areas without access to reliable electricity. The lantern is made from recyclable, weather-resistant material and can be charged in as few as eight hours of direct sunlight. Once fully charged, the device can provide up to 12 hours of light.
Solight Design’s lanterns are the world’s only self-inflating lanterns. Image used courtesy of Solight Design
The unique design provides access to solar energy that can be easily stored and transported. Solight Design now has several different lantern designs in various shapes and colors.
Philanthropist and Entrepreneur
The SolarPuff has been used in various settings, including in refugee camps and areas affected by natural disasters. In 2017, Chun traveled to Puerto Rico to distribute SolarPuffs to families affected by Hurricane Marie. The lanterns were used as nightlights by children and helped to alleviate anxiety and stress for families without access to electricity.
While in Puerto Rico, Chun met former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who was incredibly moved by Chun’s design and dedication. Chun was featured in The Book of Gutsy Women, co-authored by Clinton and her daughter Chelsea Clinton and published in 2019. She was also featured in the subsequent Apple TV+ docuseries, “Gutsy,” which premiered in September 2022.
Chun has also traveled to other parts of the world to distribute SolarPuffs, including to Nepal after the devastating earthquake in 2015, Haiti, Ghana, and most recently to Ukraine at the end of 2022. She plans on returning in Spring 2023.
Chun has partnered with organizations such as UNICEF and the Red Cross to bring sustainable lighting solutions to those in need.
Chun’s commitment to sustainability extends beyond her work with Solight Design. She is also a vocal advocate for environmental causes and serves on the board of several environmental organizations. In 2018, she was named a Climate Hero by the Climate Reality Project for her work promoting sustainable technology and environmental education.
In 2020, she was named to the Forbes “50 over 50” list, recognizing women over 50 making a significant impact in their fields.
Chun’s work has not been without its challenges, however. In addition to the logistical difficulties of distributing solar lanterns to remote areas, she has faced skepticism from those who question the effectiveness and practicality of solar technology. Despite this, Chun remains committed to bringing sustainable light solutions to people in need.
In 2020, she turned her sustainability efforts toward assisting with mask alternatives during the COVID-19 pandemic. Chun designed the SEEUS95 mask to help reduce the bruises, imprints, and obscurity caused by standard N95 masks. The new respirator mask offers a comfortable fit and full protection while still being able to see another person’s face.
SEEUS95 mask. Image used courtesy of SEEUS95
Future Solar Projects
Chun has several projects in the works, including developing a new solar-powered product designed to address the issue of plastic waste. She also plans to continue traveling to areas in need to distribute SolarPuffs and other sustainable lighting solutions.
Through her commitment to sustainability and dedication to helping those in need, Chun has become a leader in sustainable technology and an inspiration to others seeking to make a difference in the world.