Hello Science Educators
This is the first edition of the STEM Educators
Newsletter. Here is what is included in this issue:
several educational services that we can provide you free of
School, and Community Visits. You can sign up
for a visit from our Clean Energy Ambassadors or
These graduate and undergrad students from CEI and MEM-C
conduct activities like solar car races at your school STEM
fair or lead a classroom workshop with hands-on activities
for 4th-12th grades.
Tosado at Hazel Wolf School
- Lab Visits. We sponsor small
groups of middle and high school students to visit our labs at
UW to see research in action. Tours usually start with a
science presentation, a walk around the labs and
instrumentation, and sometime include a hands-on activity.
Sign up for a tour using the Clean Energy Ambassadors
- Lesson Plans. We are continually
developing new lessons and demonstrations
that you can download and modify as you need. The goal is to
translate current research topics and associated STEM skills
into ready-to-use curriculum. See “Science Highlights”
and “Solar Circuits” documents below.
- SunDawg Bags. This baggie
contains several mini solar cars, lesson plan cards, and
materials to conduct investigations. We have handed hundreds
of these to teachers we meet at outreach events. Sign up to receive a free
SunDawg bag or Solar Exploration Kit.
- Summer Programs for
Undergraduates. We manage paid summer research
experiences for undergraduates (REUs). Clean Energy Bridge to Research
focuses on freshmen and sophomores from gateway institutions
such as community and tribal colleges. MEM-C REU focuses on Veterans
and all under-represented groups. In both programs, students
are embedded in labs for the summer and conduct high-quality,
- Research Experience
for Teachers (RET). A summer program
that places community college or high / middle school teachers
in labs for a 4 to 6 week period. The goal is for teachers to
generate research-inspired curriculum for their classrooms.
- Transfer Summer UW
students. Under-represented students who are
transferring to the UW may apply for the Clean Energy ALVA or MEM-C ALVA summer program
before their first fall quarter. They receive enrichment in
chemistry and math and conduct research in our labs.
Science Highlights Student Reading
(download a print version)
Have you ever seen a
solar panel on a house or building? Solar panels produce
electricity from sunlight— this is also called photovoltaics.
Solar-generated electricity is one non-polluting solution that
may help reduce our CO2 emissions and mitigate climate
Silicon solar panel on UW dorm roof
solar panels today are made with hundreds of silicon cells. These
glass-like cells are durable and efficient, but they are also
brittle and expensive to produce. Chemists and materials
scientists have developed new chemicals that trap light to generate
electricity. These chemicals can be printed as thin films on
plastic sheets or thin metal films creating a
flexible solar cell. Someday, inexpensive solar
cells may be applied as a flexible roofing material or window
covering. Imagine every surface of a building acting as a solar
Plastic solar cell
UW Washington Clean Energy Testbeds has a large roll-to-roll
printer which can print solar cells by the meter. It also has a
laboratory to test the sheets they create. Efficiency is how much
electrical energy produced by a solar cell divided by how much
light energy hits the cell. Researchers are trying the make these
cells more efficient to make sure the sheet can survive exposure
to intense sunlight, oxygen, water, and heat. Once engineers and
chemists solve these challenges, entrepreneurs can start new
businesses using this technology to print solar cells.
Devin MacKenzie demonstrates a
plastic solar cell printer.
Engineering is a team effort.
How are flexible
solar cells different from silicon solar cells?
and technology professions are working on flexible
Why would it be important to increase the efficiency of
Can you think of a new application for flexible solar cells?
(download a print version)
can learn a lot about solar cells by playing around with simple
circuits. You can build your own solar exploration kit with
inexpensive materials purchased online. After you collect your
materials keep them together in a box.
Mini Solar Panel- 1.5 V
- Take a close look
at the solar cell. Notice that it has two leads: one red and
one black. The recommended cell for this activity is actually
a mini solar panel that has three silicon solar cells wired
together and embedded in plastic. This makes the cells easy to
handle without breaking.
- Measure the voltage
produced by a single solar cell or panel. Show the students
how to select the correct setting on your meter dial (usually
2V or 2000m). Notice that the wires on the cell and the leads
on the meter are color coded red or positive and black for
negative. Use clip leads to make it easier to keep leads
connected. Place the solar cell under a bright light and then
a regular room light.Have students collect data for each
experiment. (Expect voltages from .5 to 1.5 volts, each cell
within the panel contributes .5 volts
- Ask students if
they are familiar with light emitting diodes (LEDs). Try
connecting a single solar cell to a LED. Point out that one of
the leads of the LED is longer than the other; the longer lead
is the positive side and must be connected to the positive
solar cell wire. Does the light go on if the cell is full
sunlight or held under a bright light? (Depending on your LED
and the brightness of your light, you might be successful. A
single LED needs a minimum turn on voltage between 1.5 and 3
volts.) Try wiring two cells in series, red to black and then
to the LED. This should give you enough voltage to turn on the
LED. You might point out that an LED flashlight often has
several 1.5 V batteries.
- Repeat your
observations with a flashing LED. This led has three colors of
LEDs combined in one housing and an electronic timer that
turns each on and off in sequence. Try exposing more light to
the panels and observe the flashing light.
- Attach the small
electric motor to your solar panels. You might attach a plastic
coffee cup lid to the motor so you can see it turning. What
conditions make the motor rotate the fastest?
Science Standards at Work
We align our lessons to the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS)
to support performance expectations like those listed below for the
Solar Circuits Activity.
observations to provide evidence that energy can be transferred
from place to place by sound, light, heat, and electric currents
scientific ideas to design, test, and refine a device that
converts energy from one form to another.
Notice that these expectation statements model the
idea of 3 dimensional learning that combine three or more
To fulfill these expectations students need to use scientific and
engineering practices (SEP), and understand Disciplinary Core Ideas
(DCI) and Cross cutting concepts (CCC).
and engineering practice (SEP)-
and Carrying Out Investigations: Planning and carrying out
investigations to answer questions or test solutions to problems
in 3–5 builds on K–2 experiences and progresses to include
investigations that control variables and provide evidence to support
explanations or design solutions.
observations to produce data to serve as the basis for evidence
for an explanation of a phenomenon or test a design solution.
Core Ideas (DCIs)
Definitions of Energy Energy can be moved from
place to place by moving objects through sound, light, or
Conservation of Energy and Energy Transfer-
also transfers energy from place to place.
can also be transferred from place to place by electric
currents, which can then be used locally to produce motion,
sound, heat, or light. The currents may have been produced
to begin with by transforming the energy of motion into
and Matter: Energy can be transferred in
various ways and between objects.
Hands-on activities are naturally engaging but you can increase
their impact using guided discussion. Think about questions likes
these to help surface the big ideas in NGSS that we are hoping to
- In your
investigation how did you assure that your measurements were
accurate and reliable?
- What problems did
you encounter with your measurements?Where did the
energy start from and where did end up?
- What forms of
energy were used in each step of your experiment? Make an
energy flow chart.
- What conditions are
needed to make a complete circuit?How is energy
transferred from one form to another?
- What are other
examples of energy transfer that you see everyday?
- Can you
design a simple invention using these materials?
About the Institutes / Center
This newsletter is a joint effort
of the University of Washington’s (UW’s) Clean Energy Institute (CEI)
Engineering Materials Center (MEM-C).
CEI was founded in 2013 with funds
from the state of Washington. Its mission is to accelerate the
adoption of a scalable clean energy future that will improve the
health and economy of our state, nation, and world.
To accomplish this mission, CEI supports the advancement of
next-generation solar energy and battery materials and devices, as
well as their integration with systems and the grid. The institute
creates the ideas and educates the people needed to generate these
innovations, while facilitating the pathways to bring them to
CEI consists of UW faculty, graduate students, and undergraduates
from Chemistry, Physics, Chemical Engineering, Electrical
Engineering, Materials Science and Engineering, and Mechanical
Engineering. In addition to supporting innovative research, CEI
conducts educational outreach across Washington.
MEM-C is a National Science
Foundation (NSF)-funded Materials Research Science and Engineering
Center at UW and involves many CEI faculty and students. Its
research focus is engineering energy and electronic materials that
are one atom thick, and creating light-trapping nanostructures,
such as quantum dots. MEM-C students undertake broader impacts
projects and outreach visits.
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