I’ve been blessed to go to MIT,” says Christopher Love. “I feel I have an opportunity and also an obligation to use this tremendous experience to make a positive impact on the world.”

Now, the 21-year-old chemistry major from West Palm Beach, Florida, is passionate about developing ways to increase access to alternative energy in developing countries.

Love has participated in four UROP projects. He is the first author of a paper that identified the mechanism behind sustained voltage differences between trees and the surrounding soil. The paper hinted at possible future applications — including using the tree energy to power a distributed sensor network. He is now developing a forest-fire detection system that uses the tree energy to recharge battery-operated sensors that detect fires in remote locations, or before they get out of control. Their findings might one day increase the chance of using trees along the border of the country to signal threats, like smuggled radioactive materials.

“It’s so amazing in the lab to see results for the first time that can contribute to advancements that will help people in the future,” says Love, who is motivated by his love of learning and the thrill of discovery, and who one day plans to work in academia or industry, promoting his goal to develop alternative energy sources.

“UROP has been my most rewarding experience at MIT,” he says. “In a lab, you’re creating new knowledge. You don’t have a textbook that supplies all the answers…I just love being on the frontier.”

Another aspect of UROP, he says, is it offers students a professional experience. “In the lab, I’m part of the team. I’m not just an undergrad who’s doing all the work for others, who will present the results. I’m a key member. The team relies on me, and I rely on them.”

Love says that the tree project began as a lab science experiment and simply evolved. “Now it has evolved into a start-up company involving wireless networks. We’re learning how to design a product and how to work the business. I feel like I’ve majored in management without ever taking a management course. And I’ve learned an incredible amount of engineering without ever studying product design.

“UROP has been a big part of my life, opening doors through research and affecting people’s lives. It’s not something I take lightly. I’m so thankful for this opportunity.”