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Solar Energy Science Projects
Curriculum: Solar Power -(thermodynamics,
light/electromagnetic, radiation, energy
transformation, conduction/convection,
seasons, trigonometry)
Grade Level: Middle or High School
Size: Whole class or small groups (3 to 4)
Time: Activities range from 2 to 5 class
periods, depending on abilities of students.
Summary: The first three activities contained in the
packet focus on the practical uses of solar energy. The
activities deal with the heating of solids, liquids, and
gases. The final activity investigates the transformation
of light to electrical energy. And how different
wavelengths and intensity can effect the transformation
to electricity. The packet also contains a glossary.
Provided by the Department of Energy’s
National Renewable Energy Laboratory
and BP America Inc.

Solar
Energy
Science
Projects

CONTENTS

2
4
8
10
13

S

Solar Air Heater

S

Solar Water Heater

S

Solar Hot Dog Cooker

S

Effects of Amount and Wavelength
of Light on a Solar Cell

S

Glossary

SOLAR ENERGY
SCIENCE PROJECTS
Solar energy can be used to heat our homes,
heat water, cook our food, and power our lights.
These science projects will help you learn about solar energy and how it works. The first three projects focus on different ways to use solar thermal (or heat) energy. The fourth project focuses on solar electric energy. Each project is broken into several parts:

S The purpose of the experiment
S The materials and equipment you will need to do the experiment S Where to find some of the materials
S How to assemble and conduct the experiment
S What you may see during the experiment
S How the specific energy type works.
Some of the experiments may require help from an adult.
To help you understand new terms, we have included a glossary in the back. We have also included a resource list on the back page with information on where to get equipment for the experiments. The list also names places where you can find more information on solar energy. We hope you learn something from the experiments. But most of all, we hope you have fun!

1

PROJECT 1: SOLAR AIR HEATER
PROJECT
You will construct a solar air heater to attach to a south-facing window. MATERIALS AND EQUIPMENT
S 1 large piece of
cardboard
S Measuring tape
S Scissors
S Acrylic gesso paste

S Flat black acrylic paint
S Paint brush
S Thumbtacks

S Duct tape
S Thin string
S Plastic wrap

S Masking tape
S Thermometer
S 1 piece of graph paper

(not pushpins)

RESOURCES

Cardboard can come from a large appliance or furniture box. The gesso paste, acrylic paint, paintbrush, and graph paper can be purchased at art supply stores or hobby shops. String, duct tape, masking tape, and measuring tape is available at hardware stores.

PROCESS
Setting Up the Experiment

1

Find a south-facing window and measure its width and height inside the frame.

2

Cut out a piece of cardboard that is 10 inches
(25 centimeters) wider and taller than the window.

3

Cut a 5-inch (13-centimeter) square out of each
corner to make four 5-inch (13-centimeter) flaps
that extend from the top, bottom, and sides of the
cardboard. Fold the flaps inward. The area inside
the folds should be the same size as the window
area.

4

Apply a coat of gesso paste to the inward side of the cardboard. Allow the paste to dry for 10 minutes.

5

After the paste has dried, paint the same side of the cardboard with flat black acrylic paint. Allow the paint to dry.

6

Cut vent holes 3 inches (8 centimeters) wide by
3 inches high at about 1 inch (2.5 centimeters) from
the top and bottom folds of the cardboard.

7

Push thumbtacks into the unpainted side of the
cardboard around the vent holes on the inside
surface.

8

Weave string around the thumbtacks and across the
vent holes. This keeps the plastic wrap from blowing
through the vent holes.
2

9

Cover the...
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