Forsyth County Middle School Students Assist WFU Faculty in Solar Panel Research

Forsyth County Middle School Students Assist WFU Faculty in Solar Panel Research

6:49pm Aug 12, 2013
©WFU/Ken Bennett

A group of Winston-Salem middle school students are using their summer camp experience to assist researchers at Wake Forest University. They’re finding a new way of capturing solar energy.

This month, more than a dozen students from Hanes Middle School participated in the “Power Up! Summer Camp”. 

The program is a partnership between the school and Wake Forest University’s Center for Nanotechnology and Molecular Materials. During the camp, students learn how solar energy is captured and converted into electricity.

They test different types of solar panels through scientific experiments and hands on activities.  Students like Grace Ann Marvell, 12, say they are surprised by how much they learned.  

“I didn’t know how much you had to test the solar panels before you put them on the roof. I also learned more things on Excel,” says Marvell.

Noah Brown is going into the seventh grade at Hanes Middle and says, “I really like all of the hands on interaction. The toughest thing to do has been all of the equations because there is so much multiplication and division.”

“We had to go around and find the solar potential of the middle school. We also had to go around and measure the perimeter. After we did that, I had to go around and find the area of the roof, so that was really challenging,” says Daniel Winkelman, 13, an eighth grade student at Hanes Middle School.

The camp also gives students an opportunity to work on a major research project underway at WFU. Researchers have developed one of the first combined solar/thermal energy generators, known as the The Hybrid Sterling Energy Generator (HySterE) panel.  

Professor David Carroll, PhD., is the principal developer and director of the center.

“That silicon solar panel over there gets hot because the light is converted into photovoltaic energy, but the part that it doesn’t convert into electricity it converts into heat and it just gets hot and it gets that gets radiated out. Our panel captures that radiated heat and converts that into electricity too,” says Carroll.

Carroll explains why trapping that extra energy and recycling it is much more efficient.

“In the middle of this clear plastic tube tube, we use a fluid which is transparent to the light going in, but you see it sets right in front of that solar cell and captures all of that heat and carries the heat away. We then use that heat to run a steam turbine. And what does that do, well you see the panels that you see over there, they are about 100 watts each. The panel that we are doing is the same size but it is about 400 to 500 watts,” says Carroll.

Researchers say more than 60 percent of the materials for the device can be made from recycled materials.

Carroll says he is working with Hanes Middle School to get regulatory approval to install the panels on the magnet school’s roof. That way, students can continue to gather data on the project.

Winkelman says the experience will help him down the road.

“I have done a lot of research for a project on green technology and this has really helped me to see what the potential of this green technology is. I’m actually planning on going into programming and this really helps me learn how to be a scientist,” says student Daniel Winkelman.

Carroll says WFU also plans to test the device in the Bahamas. This month, Bahamian government officials will visit the university to learn more about the invention.

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