MONTCALM TOWNSHIP — In today’s world, a fully charged cell phone could be deemed as necessary as a car filled with gas, or perhaps to your average teenager, as important as food and water.
With a noticeable absence of your standard electrical wall outlet, the Montcalm County 4-H Fairgrounds is not considered an ideal location to plug in one’s phone as it nears the end of it’s battery life, but that doesn’t matter to Ethan Gallagher.
As his fellow 4-H’ers watch helplessly as their phones slowly die off, Gallagher just reaches into his pocket and grabs … a can of Altoids mints?
With a smile on his face, the 14-year old Hubbardston resident opens up the can, which doesn’t contain mints, but rather rechargeable batteries and a small solar panel.
He then plugs his phone into the small container via a custom USB port, and within an hour, his phone is fully charged.
“It’s small and it’s adorable,” Gallagher said of his custom-built solar-powered cell phone charger. “No one expects this to be a cell phone charger.”
Gallagher’s creativity and ingenuity, used to create a practical and resourceful device that can easily fit in one’s pocket, won him Best in Show Saturday evening in the Montcalm County 4-H Fair Still Exhibit.
Kimberly McIntyr, a leader with the Tri County Country 4-H Club who judged the entries in the still exhibit, said Gallagher’s solar-powered cell phone charger stood out from an impressive group of projects that ranged from home-cooked items to various other science projects.
“It was a great project overall and he did a fantastic job,” she said. “There were so many great projects to choose from, it was really hard to pick a winner. Everybody had things that were good. Needless to say, we finally came down to one. (Gallagher) was enthusiastic and presented his project, which was very well thought out, very well.”
Gallagher said he originally created the charger for a project in his eight grade science class.
He created several prototypes before he was finally able to create a device that charged his phone efficiently.
“It takes minimal lighting and needs direct contact with sunlight,” he said. “I thought it would be kind of cool to use an Altoids can because it had potential for different ideas inside of it.”
Gallagher ordered a few parts online and then managed to locate other items, such as the solar panel, from a solar powered yard lamp in his mother’s garden.
“I just took it apart and used the solar panel,” he said. “It was pretty simple.”
He then found an old personal computer in his basement and used wires from that computer to eventually build his final product.
Gallagher, who has been a part of the Fish Creek Saddle Club 4-H club for three years, showing his horse, Toby, said he never expected to win Best in Show for the still exhibit.
When his name was called Saturday evening prior to the Montcalm County 4-H Fair Food Auction, he was caught completely by surprise.
“I didn’t expect to win, I just wanted to bring in something that people would think was cool,” he said. “I was just waiting to sell my cheesecake, and next thing I know they are talking about my cell phone charger.”
Gallagher said his charger can charge most tablets and cell phones, with the exception of products created by Apple Inc.
Altogether, he estimates it cost about $25 to build his device, which can now charge his phone anytime the sun is in the sky, for free.
As far as marketing his device to the consumer, Gallagher said he doesn’t plan on selling it anytime soon, but isn’t ruling out the option.
For now, it will simply allow him to stay in contact with friends and family, even when camping in the rustic electricity-free wilderness of Michigan this summer.