Joe Hynek may get some guff for carrying a purse, but he says it's all in the name of science: He has designed a solar handbag that can power small electronic devices like cell phones.

Hynek, 27, a doctoral student in mechanical engineering at Iowa State University, designed the Solarjo Power Purse during a handbag competition in an experimental garment design class.

The black, rectangular purse is covered with laminated solar panels, which resemble a very thin camera film separated by white lines. Clear plastic handles top the handbag.

The purse is designed to power any small device that uses a USB port, including cell phones, personal digital assistants, iPods, global positioning devices, voice recorders and small cameras.

There's extra padding in the purse for protection and a zipper for security.

Mark Bryden, a mechanical engineering professor at Iowa State, predicts the idea could bloom into other sorts of wearable items. Already, there are backpacks that convert solar energy into battery power.

Hynek wants to eventually market the purse to environmentally conscious consumers. Although materials can be costly, Hynek hopes to keep the retail price under $300.

"I don't want to make it so that it's an elitist kind of item," he said.