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Washington State University

Solar Scientists – Citizen-Scientist: Skill Level Three

Solar Scientists

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Skill Level: Three

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Making a Photovoltaic Cell


Objective: Have youth build a photovoltaic cell out of copper strips
Science Skills: Build/Construct, Measure, Infer
Life Skills: Following directions

Materials: two copper strips 4 cm by 15 cm, 2 Tbsp. table salt or sodium chloride, two alligator clip leads, fine sandpaper, micro-ammeter, goggles
gloves, electric hot plate, shallow, clear plastic container

Preparation: Print out and read the information about Solar power in Explore More or have youth explore Solar power in the on-line Texas Energy Education modules (under “Renewable.”)

You can gather the supplies or borrow kits from the Extension Office that contain copper strips, sandpaper and micro-ammeter.

Activity: Making a PV Cell
Have youth try this activity from the Texas Energy Education curriculum. (See Explore More)

Asking the Right Questions: What happened? What was supposed to happen? Can you think of variables you could change that might affect the experiment to have different outcomes? What kinds of chemicals do you think are in photovoltaic cells?

Title: Weighing it Out

Objective: Research any potential hazards as well as the benefits of using solar power.
Science Skills: Research a Problem, Interpret/Analyze, Question
Life Skills: Responsible Use of Resources, Communication

Materials: Internet or printed fact sheets

Activity: Weighing It Out
Read and discuss the following information with a group of teens. There is more detailed information regarding the concerns surrounding the use of solar panels in the Explore More section.

For every action we take there is an effect on the natural community. Our decisions must be based on current knowledge and responsible choices. Because all things in our ecosystem are connected there is no “free lunch.”

Listed below are some of the criticisms of solar power. Which do you think are the most important and why?

The initial cost of solar energy technologies remains a costly alternative to the use of readily available fossil fuel technologies. As the price of solar equipment decreases, or the price of fossil fuels goes up, we are likely to see an increase in the use of solar cells to generate electricity.

Solar panels take up a lot of space. This may be a disadvantage in areas where space is short, or expensive (such as inner cities where the most electricity is used).

Photovoltaic cells are made using chemical processes with highly reactive compounds that are often very toxic. Silver is currently used extensively in the photovoltaic process. Silver salts are toxic. In addition to this, silver, among other components, is very expensive.

Ask the Right Questions:
Are there examples from the past of companies not demonstrating responsible environmental management with the “end of life” products? How much of this responsibility should be on the consumer who chooses to utilize these products? How much is disposal of toxic products the responsibility of the industry creating them? Compared to other alternative energies, how effective do you think solar will be for meeting our future energy needs?