As a high-school student, Eden Full ’13 began developing an invention that could change the equation for solar energy: the Sun Saluter, a tracking mechanism that rotates solar panels more efficiently, using thermal expansion instead of an electric motor.
This May, Full received a $100,000 Thiel Fellowship to help her bring the project to the marketplace. But to accept the funding, she would have to leave Princeton for two years.
Full said that while it was a difficult choice, she couldn’t pass up the opportunity. In August, she’ll move to the technology hotbed of San Francisco and work on finalizing a prototype, attracting financers, and manufacturing her solar-tracking device.
Full is quick to say that she plans to come back to Princeton to finish her degree (and fulfill a promise she’s made to her parents). She also aims to return to the women’s lightweight rowing program, where she has been a coxswain for two seasons. She’ll have one year of eligibility left after her two-year hiatus.
The inaugural Thiel Fellowships, created by PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel, will support 24 young entrepreneurs under age 21. Thiel addressed the program’s controversial dropout (or “stop-out”) requirement in an NPR interview, explaining that by leaving college, the recipients can pursue their work with “a degree of intensity and sustained effort that cannot be done part time.”
Full echoes that view. Last summer, she tested the Sun Saluter in Kenya, with the support of Princeton’s Grand Challenges program. But as a mechanical and aerospace engineering major, she had little time to continue working on the project during the school year. The fellowship, she said, will open her schedule and provide a measure of freedom that most 19-year-olds barely have imagined.“For the first time in my life, ... I’m not following what’s expected of me,” Full said. “I’m just sort of winging it, and we’ll see where it goes.”