Small scale solar panel projects and experiments are a mainstay of school science fairs. Simple experiments may use solar panels for lighting a light bulb. Moderately complex experiments include operating small solar-powered electric model cars and other solar powered mechanical devices. Advanced experiments start with a hypothesis and include complex variables and note taking, a detailed project abstract outlining the goals of the project, the variables measured and the observed conclusions.
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The most basic solar panel experiment is to light a light bulb using only solar power. The experimenter creates a simple series circuit in which mutable solar cells are linked in a chain until sufficient power is generated to light a low wattage bulb. To make the experiment more visually effective, build a black plastic hood for the bulb so the demonstration is not lost due to ambient light conditions. This kind of project is ideal for upper elementary classes and should be demonstrated by an adult.
Moderately Complex Experiments
A popular moderately complex experiment allows teams of students to create solar cars and then race them. Allow the students to build a solar cell array, design a chassis and drive system for an electric car and then construct the device. Have the children outline why they made key design decisions and have a small prize for the most successful team. Reusable parts from building toys like Lego and Mechano are helpful in keeping this particular experiment cost effective. Buy small sealed solar cells so you can reuse them and limit their damage due to handling. Sealed solar cells for models and experiments typically have only the wires exposed for linking to the circuit series. Explaining the factors that enabled the winning car to succeed will also enhance the experiment.
Advanced experiments start with a hypothesis statement, such as: "It is my hypothesis that solar panels are less efficient when used in cold weather." The experimenter will then record data from a control panel in ideal conditions with a multimeter recording the results. The next step is to expose the solar panel to variable conditions and record the multimeter outputs. After the data is collected the experimenter will then make graphs displaying what changes, if any, were recorded and make a statement of their findings. There are a huge number of variables that can be tested, making it an ideal experiment type for high school students.
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