top of page

Q&A Women in Tech: Alice Chun, Inventor of Solight Designs

Meet Yale professor, female founder, inventor of Solight Designs, author, and TedX speaker by Stephanie E.

Alice Chun is a mother, entrepreneur, teacher, author, inventor, and humanitarian. She’s SINGLE Magazine had the pleasure to sit down and chat with the tech entrepreneur to share with us the details surrounding her latest invention, the COLLAPSIBLE SOLAR LANTERN SolarPuff™.

BOLDBoss Question (1): Can you tell us about Alice Chun? Who is the everyday woman behind the invention?

A.C.: As a little girl growing up in Seoul, Korea Alice spent many days learning how a simple fold can become structure. Origami forms were taught to her by her mother, who also taught Alice how to sew her clothes. Always creative and fascinated by design, structure, and forms, when she migrated to America Alice studied architecture at Penn State. She first earned her undergraduate degree and went on to earn her Master’s in Architecture at the University of Pennsylvania.

With emerging trends in material technology resulting in smarter, lighter, faster, sustainable fabrication, Alice started to sew solar panels to fabric as early experiments for harnessing solar energy with softer, malleable material. She became focused on solar technology and finding ways to create clean energy solutions upon learning her son Quinn was diagnosed with asthma.

While teaching as a Professor in Architecture and Material Technology at Columbia University, Alice created early prototypes of solar lights with her students. Still not satisfied, and fueled by her passion for helping the underserved, Alice invented the world’s only self-inflatable, portable solar light, eliminating the need for a mouth nozzle.

This ensured a healthy, sanitary method to inflate. Alice named this invention the SolarPuff™ and conducted three years of field testing in Haiti. In 2015 she launched Solight Design and initiated a Kickstarter program with unprecedented results. She went on to win numerous awards including the US Patent Award for Humanity and her products have been exhibited at MOMA, the Modern Museum of Art in New York City.

BOLDBoss Question (2): Can you share some information about your SEEUS95 Inc.: (Transparent Shield and Respirator) invention?

A.C.: The SEEUS95 mask is the first of its kind in wearable air filtration. A clear mask is needed for the deaf and hearing impaired so they may read lips to communicate. Our transparent mask is made with medical-grade silicone material, which is recyclable, soft, flexible and clear.

Environmentally friendly silicone has no BPA, unlike PET plastics or polypropylene surgical masks—good for your skin and provides a seal, to keep dust and pollution out. The SEEUS95 Light Warrior Mask comes with replaceable filters made with our proprietary non-woven PLA and Nano-fiber material. Made from a hybrid of bamboo and PLA (biodegradable) fibers. Polypropylene Free.

  • The adhesive on the perimeter is gentle on the skin and will adhere directly to your face for a better seal. The Head strap is optional and can be purchased separately.

  • Reusable/Washable with soap and water.

  • Sanitize with alcohol wipes.

  • Remove filters before washing or sanitizing.

  • Filter options: BIO-FILTER 95% filtration efficacy OR Washable filter with No rating, comparable to cloth mask.

  • Optional head strap available as an accessory.

BOLDBoss Question (3): You spoke of your son having asthma and that being your motivation for entering the field. But is there anything else? How do you stay motivated to want to continue the journey despite how difficult it may be for a woman in the field of technology?

A.C.: "There is a long, long process of failures, over and over again with different iterations, but never call them failures... call it progress. Because with every step you fail, you learn. And from that learning, you make things better, and you redo it, and you fix things and you redo it again.

I spent five years of field testing in Haiti in the central plateau, where I had given handmade SolarPuff to the women farmers there and there was this one woman that couldn't afford the glass to go around her kerosene lantern. She said the kids are all doing their homework in a one-room house filled with smoke and they're all coughing and eyes burning. I gave her the SolarPuff back then, and she said it was a gift from God. That was when I decided to become a social entrepreneur and start Solight."

BOLDBoss Question (4): In your TEDxBushwick talk, you describe The Solar Puff as, "holding the sun in your hands." Can you elaborate on that?

A.C.: The Solarpuff is a solar lamp that harnesses the sun's energy via a solar panel with photovoltaics- so in essence you hold the sun’s energy in your hands and the light emanates from your hands while holding the SolarPuff. But the magic of the concept is recognizing your power by harnessing power from the sunlight instead of tapping into the grid. Help is not out there, it’s in your hands.

BOLDBoss Question (5): "Design provides dignity" I love this quote. How did you come up with the design for The Solar Puff? I know you mentioned it was your love for origami, but can you expand on that a bit more for some of our readers who are not familiar with the term, origami and its origin?

A.C.: “The Humanitarian Aid has historically given discarded or low-cost items away to developing countries—there is a systemic flaw to aid on many levels starting with the issue of “donations”. Design incorporates Beauty, wonder and AWE… which are just as important as utility and durability. That’s good design in general—our lamps provide hope because of the unique design and "magic cube of light effect.”

BOLDBoss Question (6): In your book, Ground Rules in Humanitarian Design, you mention the cultural factors that play into the development of impoverished and disaster-stricken communities. What are these cultural factors and what changes can/should be made to combat these complexities?

A.C.: “There are many ways culture should be recognized. In Haiti alone, there are 5 different ways of building a wall which have to do with the local landscape and what it has to offer in terms of materials. In the south they build with rock or in the southwest they build with shells—It is not only historically relevant but also a beautiful craft that should not be forgotten by replacing walls with more inexpensive concrete and plywood shipped in from abroad because it is fast and inexpensive. Good design should incorporate the intelligence of history and indigenous technology—in some ways it’s more intelligent than modern technology.”

BOLDBoss Question (7): How should The Solar Puff be used? Can you take us through step by step? Plus, where can they be purchased?

A.C.: You can purchase the solar puff here:

It comes in a craft paper box.

  • Take the solar puff out—it is a polygon shape and flat.

  • Pull apart the two handles on each side. This will expand the diffuser like a bellow.

  • Shape the cube by pinching the corners straight to make the cube form—you can also shape or fold it into a pyramid shape, depending on the way you fold the diffuser.

  • Press the on/off switch.

1X for low setting

2X for high setting

3X times for blinking or distress signal

4X turns the lamp off

Our. 2.0 version has a Light sensor:

Press the button for three seconds and it will toggle between Light sensor and Manual mode. In light sensor mode you may leave the Puff Outside with solar panel facing up and it will turn on by itself when the sun goes down and turn off when the sun comes up.

BOLDBoss Question (8): Can you speak to us about the importance of intelligent materials and their correlation to technology? (148 Part 6 – Local Materials and Local Skills)

A.C.: “Natural materials have been overlooked for the past three decades due to the use of Petrol chemicals and man-made materials such as plastic or PVC which have had devastating effects on our planet, environment, and health. For instance, Bamboo is an incredibly intelligent material as it is a natural plant, can grow three meters in 24 hours under the right conditions, and has a tensile strength 10x steel.

Hemp is an incredibly intelligent material; its fibrous structure is water-resistant, naturally antibacterial and has a natural pesticide to keep bugs away and is a fire retardant. It has all-natural compounds without the use of formaldehyde which can cause cancer.”

BOLDBoss Question (9): What are some tips you can share for those looking to lead a more sustainable life?

A.C.: "You can use our SolarPuff light for ambient Light in the evenings instead of tapping into the grid. This would save up to 90 lbs of carbon emissions each year.

Use less plastic by getting glass storage containers.

I buy natural material clothing and recycled clothing. Washing clothing with polyester breaks up the plastic in the material and ends up in the oceans in micro-particles, eventually being eaten by aquatic life."

BOLDBoss Question (10): Congratulations on your feature in the new Apple TV+ show Gutsy Women airing September 9th. Can you talk to us about that journey, its premise and what viewers can hope to take away from the experience?

A.C.: I was able to partner with our nonprofit organizations and we got over 100,000 lights to Puerto Rico, right after Hurricane Maria and I was invited by the Clinton Global Initiative to get a small award. That's when I met Hillary. When I met her I told her about how I was going to the schools in Dominica where the kids had no schools, their roofs were blown off and they were all in tents. I went to seven schools and told them the story of being a light warrior.

The light warrior story is that the sun has the most powerful source of energy that comes to the Earth every day. It's enough energy to give every person on the planet a light bulb that would shine bright their entire lifetimes. But the light of your imagination and the light of your heart is even more powerful than the sun and if you fight with that light, there's nothing you can't do. Hillary just loved that story. And she loved the SolarPuff. She thought it was brilliant and asked me to be in her book.

Then when the Docu series was being filmed, I had 30 people come to my apartment along with the Secret Service to film back in March. I live in New York in a tiny apartment, but the camera crew and secret service all descended upon me for a day, and we filmed that episode. It was a very surreal experience. I felt an out-of-body experience because I couldn't believe Hillary and Chelsea were in my apartment.

Hillary was so funny and smart and sharp during the whole thing. There's a lot of footage that wasn't shown on the show. One of which we were doing an origami balloon and Hillary kind of decimated hers, but Chelsea made a brilliant one and we were all kind of laughing at that behind the scenes. Hillary's mind was so sharp every time. The producer would say "you have to talk about this or that" and then Hillary would just get us all in line and focus and we hit every topic that we were supposed to. So, I love her. I think she's an amazing and brilliant woman and would like to consider her a mentor.

BOLDBoss Question (11): You're a USPTO Patents for Humanity winner, can you describe what it felt like to receive such recognition for your hard work?

A.C.: "It is an extremely humbling experience as one of the inventors being recognized for helping to solve a world problem. Many have been recognized throughout history and I’m incredibly grateful to the USPTO for that honor. It is like standing next to a giant and knowing that the giant is your friend."

BOLDBoss Question (12): What else can readers come to expect from you and where can they find you to support your endeavors?

A.C.: They can find us at:

Expect to be enlightened by your own imagination when you use our lights.


bottom of page