Clay pot cooler design research for improved vegetable storage in low-income rural communities

Term: Summer 2023
UROP Department, Lab or Center: MIT D-Lab
Faculty Supervisor: Eric Verploegen
Compensation: UROP direct funding available if the application is submitted by April 18 and accepted by the UROP office. Otherwise, credit or on volunteer basis.

About MIT D-Lab

D-Lab works largely on health, water, energy, and agriculture to achieve sustainable development goals through collaborative approaches. We have a long history of working with collaborators around the world to design and develop energy solutions for low-resource communities. D-Lab also offers dynamic, project-based energy classes during both semesters. More details on D-Lab research are available here.

Project overview

The D-Lab Evaporative Cooling Research Group has been conducting research on clay pot coolers since 2016. When affordable and effective post-harvest storage solutions are not available or affordable, people living in off-grid rural communities will often experience vegetable spoilage, loss of income, lack of access to nutritious foods, and large amounts of time spent purchasing vegetables. Clay pot coolers are simple and inexpensive technologies that can be made with locally available materials, that can dramatically improve the shelf life of many fruits and vegetables.

Research on how design parameters impact the performance and usability of the technology will be used to provide guidance to users on how best to assemble these devices, MIT D-Lab has reached thousands of households in West Africa through training programs in collaboration with NGOs and government agencies.

The goal of this UROP project is to systematically organize and analyze existing data sets, conduct additional experiments where needed, and generate academic and practitioner-focused outputs to share this knowledge and increase the performance and accessibility of technologies being used in West African communities.

Data on the performance of a wide range of device designs have been collected in Mali, Rwanda, Burkina Faso, Uganda, and the team’s lab at MIT.

The following papers contain results from the team’s earlier work using sensors to measure the performance of the technology:

and a heat and mass transport model of clay pot coolers was developed and published.

The output of this work is expected to result in a peer-revied publication for which the student would be the lead author.


The student’s responsibilities will be the following:

  • Organize and conduct a preliminary analysis of the data from various sources
  • Determine the key areas of interest for deeper parametric analysis
  • Compare the experiment results with the heat and mass transfer model predictions and extrapolate results for a range of designs that were not tested experimentally.
  • Formulate hypotheses and present supporting data
  • Conduct additional experiments as needed
  • Draft a manuscript for a peer-reviewed publication

This will start as a full-time position will start in the Summer of 2023 and it is expected that part-time work through the following academic year will be needed to complete the project.

Throughout the duration of the project, the student will receive close guidance and support from the supervisor.

This is an excellent project for a student interested in pursuing graduate studies and looking to gain experience with data analysis and academic publishing while supporting a project with real-world impacts on low-resource communities. This project would also make a strong senior thesis.


Applicants should have an interest in practical solutions to global poverty challenges. Previous experience with data analysis, heat and mass transfer modeling, and technical writing are preferred.


Interested candidates should email Eric Verploegen with a brief explanation of why they are interested in this project and describe any relevant previous experience.


Eric Verploegen, MIT D-Lab Research Engineer; Lead, Evaporative Cooling Research Group