The idea started with a motion-powered flashlight brought back from a trip to India -- and led to a national award and $8,000 each for three Roslyn High School ninth-graders.
Anvit Kalra-Lall, 14, Ross Kaplan, 15, and Andrew Penner, 15, won the U.S. Army's ninth annual eCYBERMISSION Competition with a device that uses a person's walking motion to harness energy.
They attached components of the flashlight along with a solar-power device to a sneaker, and placed piezoelectric material, which generates energy through compression, in the heel of the shoe.
"Everyone walks every single day," Kalra-Lall said. "So why not use this motion to generate energy?"
The device can create enough electricity in 5 1/2 hours to charge an iPod Nano, Kalra-Lall said. By walking on a treadmill while wearing the shoe, the team was able to light an LED lightbulb and power a radio.
The competition invited students nationwide to apply science, technology, engineering and mathematics to help solve a problem in their community. The Roslyn students beat out thousands of other competitors in their ninth-grade division, Kalra-Lall said, including another Roslyn team that placed second in the state.
When the winners were announced at an awards banquet last week in Washington, D.C., Penner's and Kaplan's mothers screamed with joy.
"At that moment it just felt as if all of our hard work and dedication just ultimately paid off," Penner said.
As well as $8,000 in savings bonds, each student earned a gold-plated medal.
"The money is definitely great," Kaplan said. "But knowing that you can impact society with your project is really cool."
The trio named itself Team HuGE -- an acronym for human-generated energy -- because, the students say, humans are the solution to their own energy crisis.
When most people think of alternative energy, Penner said, they think of new types of cars or planes.
"But people never realize that humans are the most advanced machines of all," he said. "And that maybe they could store energy."
The students worked nights and weekends on the project for more than a year, with the help of their adviser, research coordinator Allyson Weseley.
"You can have a good idea, but if you don't put the work in then you go nowhere," she said.
Next, the three friends plan to adapt their idea to make the technology smaller, so it looks better on the shoe, and more efficient. They also plan to try it in other places, such as the hubcap of a car.