Familiarize your students with solar power as a reliable source of energy and fuel their STEM interest to bring the sun’s potential to the mainstream.

Dependence on fossil fuels as an energy source is becoming a thing of the past as STEM professionals prove that solar power is an efficient, eco-friendly alternative to using expensive, limited resources. According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, the residential sector’s use of photovoltaic, or PV, solar power grew 51 percent in 2013.
In 2014, 645,000 residences and businesses in the United States were using solar power, a number that STEM experts project will grow. While the solar-power trend must still gain momentum to bypass oil, coal, and natural gas as the leading energy source, STEM students who are interested in this field should start thinking about how they will promote and develop this option. Assign any of the following projects to students and promote the study of solar energy, during group work in class or at the science fair.

  1. Seeing Infrared

    Through utilizing Herschel’s experiment, students will discover frequency and wavelength, and examine infrared light. Outlined by the National Teacher Training Institute (NTTI), this project teaches students about how Earth is heated by the sun, along with the nature of and uses for infrared light. Students will be asked to heat different objects by using a variety of sources, including the sun. By recording how each item conducts and retains heat with every method, students will be able to compare solar power with other approaches.

  2. Easy-Bake Sun Oven

    From “The Hunger Games” film franchise to “The Walking Dead,” post-apocalyptic, dystopian-themed entertainment is one of the most popular categories to draw audiences over the last few years. Often, these stories feature obsolete methods to perform tasks for which we use modern appliances. Tech Engineering shares its step-by-step plan for building a solar oven using cardboard, insulation, aluminum foil and Plexiglas. By absorbing solar radiation, this oven should cook and bake food depending on temperature and time, values that students must monitor closely and compare with conventional appliances.

  3. Getting Hot In Here

    Beyond rooftop solar panels and sun-powered batteries to provide electricity in the home, this renewable resource can also heat houses. Students will construct a window heating unit for the home using simple materials, including plastic wrap, cardboard, thumbtacks  and, of course, duct tape. After constructing and fitting the unit into the window, students must measure its input and output on days when the sun is shining and those that are overcast. California’s Energy Quest provides the perfect step-by-step instructions for this and other solar-based science projects in “Solar Energy Science Projects” guide.

  4. Solar Water Works

    Solar Power

    Photo Credit: Flickr Creative Commons

    Making a water still is an excellent science project, yet it could also be a STEM-based lifesaving method when faced with a disaster situation, such as an earthquake, if potable water becomes scarce. PBS shares easy instructions for making a water still, using a short list of supplies that includes a bowl, cup, saltwater, and plastic wrap. Using distillation, this project harnesses the sun’s heat, providing clean water by turning the water into a gas and then returning it to its liquid form. While the materials listed make a science project easier, improvising with whatever materials are available will work in an emergency situation.

While we still have a long way to go in order to see greater acceptance of solar power, if Tesla and Hawaii’s plans prove successful, other regions might follow suit. It’s time to promote solar power through STEM in the classroom.

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