Solar Energy Science Kit

Reviewed by Hui Dai, Ben Lard, Yuh-Wen Seah

The aim of this kit is to allow you to experiment with the power of the sun as an alternate energy source. It explains that solar energy is a renewable power source and creates no pollution.

This kit is designed to allow you to build a solar energy lab that has a solar energy collector and solar heater. It consists of 30 experiments. The first 2 experiments teach us how to use the thermometer included in the kit since the thermometer included is not graduated. It also explains how the thermometer works which is useful in terms of educational value. The rest of the experiments involve using the sun as a source of heat.

In terms of education, this kit has done a great job. Its experiments all involved converting sunlight into heat. It compared effects of direct sunlight, sunlight through a window and heat from an electric bulb. It also gives hints that allow one to guess what the results are due to different colored backgrounds and covered or uncovered containers. It does not, however, explain why there are differences in the results.

In this kit, there is a heat absorber bag. The experiment that used this bag demonstrates that warmer water rises and cooler water sinks down. This concept is then used to explain how a commercial water heater works. At the end of the experiment, it proposes the question of how large a solar heater would need to be for everyday life. It also asked a question of using a mirror as a practical way to make a solar heater more efficient.

The rest of the experiments involve using a solar reflector to heat up water, burn paper, cook eggs and melt wax. They all involve the same concept for different objects, which was quite redundant.

The nice thing about this kit is that there are sections where they explain certain principles like the use of a parabolic reflector to focus parallel rays of light into a single point and explained calories. There are also areas where hints are given so that you know what to expect during the experiment.

This kit is designed pretty well. There are pictures accompanying assembly instructions to make it easier to assemble. There are many experiments that are easy to do. There is also a section that describes other uses of solar energy and where to begin searching for more information on solar energy. There are also hints on certain experiments to explain certain possible outcomes.

This kit lacks certain equipment that would greatly improve it. One is a test-tube cleaner. It describes a method to assemble one using steel wool and a pencil. We think that including one would be better. This kit would also be better if it included a section on solar cells. This would open up the area of using sunlight to generate electricity allowing a link to everyday life. Hence, giving more relevancy of using sunlight as a new source of energy.

The last thing that we feel this kit needs is section that discusses the results of each experiment. It would discuss all possible results and why some of the kids might have different results due to experimental inconsistencies.

This section was written by Ben Lard.

Due to conflicting schedules, each member in our group played with the experiment kit separately. This is the story of my experiences. Names have been changed to protect the ignorant. We picked the solar power kit, mostly because the box looked cool. The contents, however, were not nearly so interesting.

The entire kit is centered around a bowl-shaped plastic mirror, a thermometer, a test tube, and the concept that light heats things. Even as a10 year old (the minimum suggested age), I don't believe any of these things would have seemed especially interesting or exciting. The experimentation manual begins with an exposition on the dwindling supplies of non-renewable resources such as coal and oil. It then presents solar power and related technologies as an avenue of renewable power. Not a bad beginning, but the number of kids who read the first section of a manual is probably on the small side. I was interested enough to continue. The first experiments revolved around heating things up and measuring the temperature differences using the thermometer. Sunlight heats things up more than shade. Very groundbreaking. The kit tried to bring in an interesting twist by showing that darker colors heat up faster, but this, too, is common knowledge for anyone who's worn a black shirt on a hot day compared to a white one. Instead of explaining why this phenomenon occurs or providing some insight, the aspiring scientist is pushed along. To be fair, I find it somewhat difficult to evaluate some of the experiments in this kit with an open mind. The concepts behind the experiments are so old and well known that IUm unsure as to whether I would have been interested at age ten. As much of this kit was oriented at these low-level revelations, the entire process of evaluation is a little shady.

The experiments continued with a demonstration that heat rises using die and some water. I'm unsure if I would have been very surprised at this result, but again I was disappointed in the lack of an explanation. Granted, any explanation would be jumping into much more advanced concepts head first, but a qualitative description can be made for subjects from molecular chemistry to space travel. The lack of such descriptions in this kit was a major downfall. Eventually the experiments lead to use of the curved mirror, which was fun just because you could shine it at people. The fundamental concept of taking lots of diffuse light and focusing it on a small area to get a larger effect was well explained. A few supplemental experiments were designed to hammer down that idea.

All told, I don't see how this experiment could capture the interest of a 10year old for very long. It's not fun enough to capture those not already interested in science. Why go through the book to actually do the experiments when there are much more interesting diversions available in TV, computers and toys? For the child who is interested in science, the kit falls short on the scientific side. While it tries to emphasize the scientific method, it misses the how-does-it-work quality that has always captivated me. Other possibilities for improvement might be the addition of some solar cells for converting sunlight into electricity. Or perhaps a magnifying glass to contrast mirrors and lenses. Then, at least one could have fun killing ants once they got bored with the kit.