Does soda cause tooth decay? Does listening to music while studying improve memory? Does parachute design affect the speed of a falling object? These were the questions students were choosing for science fair projects ten years ago.
Today’s students are breaking new ground and setting their sights on new and different topics. Our students are increasingly interested in solving one specific real-world environmental issue: how can we produce sustainable, clean energy for ourselves and for future generations?
This year, all three projects that represented Canterbury at the regional science fair tackled the energy dilemma. Our student’s questions were thought-provoking and forward-thinking. Two students seeking to improve the efficiency of solar energy, while another figured out how to make energy out of ocean waves.
Alec F. (’23) knew that only a small amount of sunlight hits any given point on Earth’s surface, making solar panels inefficient. Alec also knew that a magnifying glass could concentrate sunlight in a small, localized area. He wanted to see if he could improve the power output of a solar cell by concentrating light using a magnifying glass lens. To mimic the Sun, Alec used a powerful lamp from his father’s photography equipment. He set up a magnifying glass at varying distances between the light and a solar cell, looking for the ideal distance for energy production. His experiment results were promising. Energy production did indeed increase when a magnifying glass was used to concentrate light on the solar cell!
Sasha F. (’23) took a different approach to solar panel efficiency. Sasha knew that many rooftop solar panels are inefficient because they remain stationary throughout the day, while the Sun’s position in the sky changes constantly. Sasha wanted to find out if solar tracking technology leads to greater power output. Sasha set up two solar cells, one that remained in a fixed position and one that tracked the Sun’s movement through the sky. He found that tracking the Sun produce nearly twice the power as leaving a panel to sit stationary on the rooftop!
Nebi D. (’23) wanted to harvest energy from ocean waves. Nebi developed an ambitious engineering project, to make his own wave energy generator. Using YouTube videos for guidance, Nebi learned that waves can move a permanent magnet up and down within a coil of wire. The motion of the magnet generates a flow of electrons inside the wire – electricity! Nebi hand-wrapped hundreds of coils of thin wire around acrylic test tubes. He attached a buoy to a permanent magnet so it would bob up and down through the test tube as waves passed. Nebi used a large Tupperware tote filled with water to simulate the ocean, sliding the tote back and forth on wooden dowels to create waves. His design produced energy, proving that ocean waves are a viable and sustainable energy source!
I am incredibly proud of these students for their creativity and dedication to the scientific process. More importantly, I am heartened by the fact that our students are ready to tackle the tough environmental challenges that face our planet.
I am also proud of these students for their accomplishments at the Pinellas Regional Science & Engineering Fair. Click here to learn more about the success of these students at the regional competition.