American Possibilities Signage

Sandia makes waves at White House Demo Day 

March 7, 2024 6:44 am Published by
Sandia interns Nicholas Ross and Anwi Fomukong with John McCord from the University of North Carolina’s Coastal Studies Institute. Photo by Spring Booth.

Nicholas Ross and Anwi Fomukong stood by the model wave tank and waited to shake President Biden’s hand. Surrounded by press and security, they stood in front of the Sandia Interactive Wave Energy Educational Display, dubbed the SIWEED, as the President of the United States approached to ask them about the potential of renewable, marine energy.

The two Sandia National Laboratories interns— engineering students from the University of New Mexico—were invited to showcase the SIWEED at the White House Demo Day in Washington, D.C., an event sponsored by the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP).

Nestled between an EPA booth on tracking algae blooms from space and another on the dangers of wildfire smoke, the SIWEED was one of 40 exhibits chosen to showcase federally funded scientific innovations for an audience of senior federal officials, congressional staff, college science classes and the President of the United States. After a busy morning discussing their exhibits with showcase attendees, security cleared the conference room floor in preparation for the President’s arrival. Nick and Anwi were among only a handful of presenters invited back in to meet with the President. Anwi waited nervously as the President spoke with other exhibitors, but as he approached the SIWEED exhibit her nervousness went away as she remembered that “he’s just a person wanting to learn about what we had to say, just like everyone else we spoke with that day.” And speak they did, Anwi and Nick told the President about their experience as Sandia interns, their future plans, and about the potential of wave energy.  

Nicholas Ross explaining how a wave energy converter (WEC) works in the Sandia Interactive Wave Energy Educational Display (SIWEED) at the White House Demo Day: American Possibilities. Photo by Spring Booth.

Indeed, wave energy has the potential to do big things and take its place as part of a clean and secure energy grid. More than 600 attendees at White House Demo Day had the opportunity to try the SIWEED, which consists of a wave maker and a wave energy converter, or WEC. When tuned properly, the WEC lights up a model village. The SIWEED provides people with a hands-on opportunity to interact with a WEC and see its possible applications. According to Nick, who designed and built most of the SIWEED’s electrical system and user interface as well as programming the backend system, the opportunity to meet the President and showcase his work was, “… the best possible way for the SIWEED to be used. It made every hour of work worth it, and I’m so grateful it got the chance to fulfill its purpose.”

First conceived as part of a science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) outreach effort sponsored by the Department of Energy’s Water Power Technologies Office, the SIWEED was designed and built by a team of interns under the guidance of Ryan Coe, a mechanical engineer for Sandia’s Water Power Technologies Department. The project spanned two years and benefited from the time, knowledge, and effort of many at Sandia. The SIWEED currently resides at the Coastal Studies Institute, a multi-institutional research and educational partnership of the University of North Carolina System, where it is used to educate and inspire students about the potential of wave energy.