These nine projects allow students to set up their own investigations and manipulate the variables that influence photovoltaic cells. The projects can be easily integrated into a normal science classroom curriculum, or can be completed by students individually for science fair projects. All of the projects will fit easily into classroom lessons surrounding scientific inquiry and the scientific method. They will also help illustrate concepts in electricity, light and color, velocity and gravity, chemistry and polarity, and could even lead to social studies or social action projects.
Concentrated sunlight is a versatile and high-quality form of energy with several potential applications besides producing heat and electricity. Today, scientists are developing systems that use concentrated sunlight to detoxify hazardous wastes, to drive chemical reactions, and to treat materials for increased hardness and resistance to corrosion.
As the popularity of photovoltaic (PV) cells and integrated circuits (IC) increases, the need for silicon also increases. Silicon is one of the most used materials in these two industries. It is an inexpensive and abundant semiconductor. However, the process of producing pure silicon adds cost, and it is generally unknown to the public. One of the first steps in producing silicon is a process called carbon-thermic reduction. Silicon dioxide (SiO2) that is found in beach sand and quartz is melted down in a caldron at a temperature of 1450 degrees Celsius.
Students model the flow of energy from the sun as it enters a photovoltaic cell, moves along a wire and powers a load. The game-like atmosphere involves the younger students and helps them understand the continuous nature of the flow of energy. For a related lesson, please see the activity “Solar Powered System” (PDF 430 KB).