NAPS Supports STEM at NHS By Helping Fund Solar Energy Labs

As part of its support for environmental and STEM education, NAPS recently donated $500 toward material for Northumberland High School science students to build ten small-scale 12-volt solar electrical systems, one DC/AC inverter for guided experiments, wire, switches and assorted hardware, thanks to a generous donation by NAPS members Tommy & Marie Armstrong.

Each of the systems will be comprised of:

  • One 25-watt solar panel

  • Battery charging regulator

  • 12-volt battery

  • Built-in meter to show power, voltage, and current produced by the solar panel

  • Built-in meter to show charge/voltage of the battery

  • Items to provide demonstration electrical loads (LED lights, fans, etc.)

  • Plywood A-frame to mount components to take outdoors for experiments

The school district funded the remaining $1,300 requested for the program, according to Gary Dickens, NHS chemistry and physics teacher, who also assists with the Rappahannock Community College/Northern Neck Technical Center engineering courses taught at the high school.

Physics students would build the systems and conduct experiments. Once the unit was complete, students would take the assemblies apart to be rebuilt by students in the next physics class for their own experiments.

Next year, Dickens hopes to add additional test load components and constant stream- ing energy sensors which will stream voltage and current data into a laptop. These sensors would also be used in other labs studying electric circuits. This year the students will collect and chart the data by hand, according to Dickens.

“When you include NHS students taking chemistry, physics and engineering at the Chesapeake Bay Governor’s School and NNTC, over 27% of our student body are enrolled in higher level science and engineering courses,” said Dickens, adding that the school is focused on offering more project-based learning opportunities.

“Our students are taught a set of formulas, given a set of materials and a lab for several days. They then test their projects and present their findings to the class. Our students are very strong in this thinking/building/testing/presenting approach,” said Dickens, who wanted to include a strong unit centered on renewable energy sources, eventually including wind and fuel cell technologies. “The first logical piece of the unit is solar energy, becoming so prevalent in our region,” he added.

“Thanks for NAPS’ interest in STEM at NHS. I continue to be amazed at the quality of students we have here and want to do everything I can to introduce them to the world of STEM and the lucrative career opportunities it holds. These solar labs are going to make the concepts very tangible for our students,” Dickens wrote.

Each of the ten lab systems consist of one 25-watt solar panel, battery charging regulator,12-volt battery, multi-meter for solar panel output, battery meter and other components. Students will mount each solar kit to a “sandwich board” style frame to facilitate outdoor experiments.

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