Alternative-energy enthusiast Orian Welling, a senior in mechanical engineering, has been awarded a full scholarship for graduate study at the University of Cambridge, England, by the Gates Cambridge Trust.
The 24-year-old Wisconsin native heard the news a long way from home: He is currently riding his bicycle from South Africa to England, though he plans a brief visit back to MIT before resuming his trek.
Welling, who is making the trip with his wife, Karen Noiva Welling '08, took a break from cycling to conduct his interview for the Gates scholarship program by phone. He learned that he had been selected a few days later, while he was riding near the border between South Africa and Botswana.
The current trek is actually Welling's second major international pedal-powered journey. He and a friend made an earlier trip from Alaska to Argentina -- a 15,000-mile journey that occupied an entire year between his transferring from the University of Wisconsin to MIT -- which inspired Welling to create a bike-powered laptop that could be made available to developing countries.
Last year, Welling and five teammates won the MIT IDEAS Competition Yunus Challenge Award for a portable solar cooker intended to withstand the high winds on the plateau of western China. The dish and reflector are formed by Mylar sewn onto a yak-wool canvas base.
Welling's passion for alternative energy was kindled at a young age: His parents long ago founded the Midwest Renewable Energy Fair, and his father managed a solar and wood stove shop. He envisions starting a business dedicated to developing sustainable shipping and transportation technologies. To accomplish this goal, he will now pursue a doctorate in mechanical engineering at Cambridge as one of 100 Gates Cambridge Scholarship recipients (out of more than 700 applicants).
In addition to his studies and work on alternative energy, Welling is a teacher. He has participated in MIT's CETI (China Educational Technology Initiative), teaching mechanical engineering in English through the hands-on bicycle design work. As a lab assistant for the Department of Mechanical Engineering, Welling has taught basic machining and assembly techniques as well as Matlab and Solidworks.
MIT students have won 15 of the prestigious Gates scholarships since the program was established in 2000 by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The scholarships cover tuition, room, board, travel and stipend for study at Cambridge.
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on February 25, 2009 (download PDF).