STEM Project Exhibitions – Eureka, it really IS battery power (and solar power, and hydropower, and…..)

As we approach the end of the school year, Innovation Lab students are busy putting the finishing touches on the final STEM Project of the year – the Eureka! It’s Battery Power Project!!!.  For this project, students were expected to design and build a device incorporating electric power that is portable, sustainable, and meets a need.  In a twist that “upped” the challenge factor, students not only had to design the actual output for the project, they were also asked to plan a unique exhibition of their work.  Exhibition audience, format, timing, and scheduling were all up to the students.  Brian and I just provided logistics support and, where necessary, signed paperwork.  We are thrilled to report that both the devices themselves and the venues in which the students have showcased their efforts were diverse, creative, and impressive!  Please see below for details and links for each of these 14 amazing projects!!!!  This blog is long – but it is TOTALLY worth the effort, so don’t miss out on any of it…..

#1 – The Electric Go-Cart

Dylan, Alex K., Grant and Tyler have been on a quest – a quest to build a solar power rechargeable electric go-cart.  Like all good quests, this one will probably need multiple volumes to come to its dramatic and satisfying conclusion.  For their exhibition they created a documentary detailing their work thus far (see below), and will be consulting with the tech-engineering class to help problem solve the remaining issues.

#2 – The Solar-Powered Tyke Car

Siobhan, Ziare, Destene, and Grayson rehabilitated an old broken down tyke car, including a complete re-wire, AND made it solar powered by constructing a solar power charging station for the car’s batteries.  In addition to meeting the need for fun, this group used their project as a kid-friendly way to educate young students about sustainable energy and solar power.  To prepare they had to take a complex project and explain it at two levels – in a technical description directed at an adult audience and in educational materials directed to an elementary audience (which you can read here).  As their culminating exhibition, they took a road trip to Whitby School and demonstrated their project to an elementary level class, including test drives!  Everyone had a blast!!  You can read more about it in this Greenwich Free Press article.

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The Solar Powered Tyke Car group visits Whitby School!


#3 – The Atmospheric Water Generator

Kai, Jari, Molly, and Jovanni are trying to help solve a major public health issue – availability of potable water in developing nations.  Their idea?  A personal atmospheric water generator that harnesses solar energy to power a dehumidifier (to condense water from the atmosphere) and provide water filtration to ensure the water is safe to drink.  Initial research and design attempts served to clarify how humid the atmosphere would need to be and how much power would be required to condense a given volume of water on an average day.  The group also conducted tests to analyze the extent of water filtration likely necessary to make that water “clean” enough to drink.  Turns out there are A LOT of technical challenges to be resolved to bring their concept to fruition.  Thus, the team has enlisted the help of engineers and designers at MIT’s D-Lab. Via email communication and an upcoming Skype session with these experts, the team hopes to brainstorm ideas to overcome obstacles.  Have a look at the technical proposal they forwarded to the D-Lab here.

#4 – The Nanoporous Graphene Desalination Membrane Documentary

Sofia, Kathryn, and Rob also opted for a project centered on water availability, and began diving into desalination (pun intended!).  They were inspired by the work of Dr. David Cohen-Tanugi on nanoporous graphene as a reverse osmosis membrane and decided to make a documentary about him and his work.  They reached out to Dr. Cohen-Tanugi, who has generously offered his time and expertise via emails and Skype interviews.  Based upon these communications, and close reading of his MIT dissertation as well as several peer-reviewed scientific journal articles on the subject (e.g. this article published in Nature Magazine) the group has crafted a documentary script stunning in its level of technical detail and accuracy.  Based upon the quality of their work, the group has been invited to screen their finished documentary as part of Bruce Museum’s Sunday Science at the Seaside Center – so be on the lookout for that event tentatively scheduled for September 4th!  As a stunning example of the real-world professionalism promoted by Innovation Lab – the three also have a signed technology licensing agreement with MIT granting them permission to use data and figures from Dr. Cohen-Tanugi’s dissertation in their documentary!

#5 – Hydropower!!!

Katherine, Nicole, Angelina, and Flora aimed to construct small modular hydropower devices that can recharge standard rechargeable batteries, and then install them in our campus waterfall.  They tested three different waterwheel prototypes, but found that none of their initial designs would generate the current and voltage necessary to recharge a standard rechargeable battery.  The have presented all of their work in exquisite detail on their very own hydropower website.  Please visit it today and offer your comments!!  Of special note, the stunning photograph that serves as the site’s banner was taken by Nicole at our waterfall (look for the rainbow…).


The hydropower team in action.


#6 – The Piezoelectric Power Proposal

Chloe prepared a proposal for installation of piezoelectric tiles in high foot-traffic areas of Greenwich High School with the dual purpose aim of providing an energy-offset for the building as a whole, as well a providing an entertaining, high-visibility format to educate students and staff about issues of sustainable energy.  After meeting with Headmaster Chris Winters about her proposal, she is in the process of contacting Pavegen to get a formal price quote for the proposed project.

#7 – “Solar Smoothies”

Rylie, Julia, Jane, Fjolla, and Sofi sold “Solar Smoothies!”  They built a solar power charging station / food preparation cart that uses sustainable energy to power two smoothie blenders.   They made and sold their own signature recipe smoothies to InLab parents and students at our Innovation Lab Community gathering earlier this month, and then to Greenwich High students in general in the student center during lunch block.  The smoothies got rave reviews and were so popular they sold out in under 30 minutes!!!!


Building and exhibiting the “Solar Smoothies” cart


#8 – The Miniature Vertical Axis Windmill

Alex S. has been creating prototype after prototype of a small scale vertical axis windmill with the intent of manufacturing a portable device that can be attached to the frame of a bicycle or the window of a car, so that users can charge their cell phones or other small electronics while travelling from place to place.  After designing and testing two different 3D printed designs, and a third wood and metal design, Alex realized that he had not properly accounted for Bernouilli’s principle in his designs, and that therefore his speed of rotation and power output were sub-optimal.  For his exhibition, he will be conferencing with some AP Physics students to problem-solve and plan the next prototype iteration.


Alex’s tests of his three prototypes.


#9 – STEM Stories (A Personal Narrative)

Juliana began her journey trying to make a backpack that harnesses solar energy to filter water and charge a cell phone, then shifted focus to solar powered decorative lawn lights.  Along the way she learned some fundamental truths about the nature of STEM including: 1) things seldom if ever turn out the way you pictured them at the outset, 2) progress is a meandering journey, not a straight shot, and 3) frequently you can learn more from what doesn’t work than what does.  Leveraging her strong literary bent, Juliana has opted to chronicle her experiences in a personal narrative.  Keep an eye out for her beautiful writing soon to be available on her blog.

#10 – The Solar-Powered Robot (Its name is Frónt)

Calvin, Kevin, and Andrew are trying to help out the GHS Robotics Team by building a portable solar charging station that can recharge both the nickel-metal hydride battery that powers the team’s robot (whose name is Frónt) and the lithium-ion battery of the Android platform phone that serves as the remote control for the robot.  Stepping down the voltage from the charging station to what the phone can handle has been a real engineering challenge, requiring the gentlemen to design, solder, and test their own circuits to provide just the right amount of resistance.  Check out the Instructables post that served as the group’s exhibition!  They are also planning to show their progress to the GHS Robotics Team for feedback.


Planning and building for the solar-powered robot.


#11 – A Better Solar-Powered Cell Phone Charger

Tess and Riley have proven the old adage “if you want something done right, do it yourself”!  They built their own compact solar-charger for cell phones.  Their version – which they soldered, wired, sewed, and tested themselves – is cheaper, lighter, and works BETTER (provides more current and a faster charging time) than a commercially available version they used for comparison.  For their exhibition, they demo-ed their product (and gave out lollipops!) to enthusiastic students.


Solar-powered cell phone charger is a real draw!


#12 – The Solar-Powered Grill (Burgers Anyone?)

Emily, Pierce, Carly, and Sam wanted to make burgers at the beach using a solar-powered electric grill.  To get there they learned solar panel wiring, soldering, battery-pack design, grill wiring, 3D printing, and more.  Although they aren’t ready to BBQ just yet – you can learn more about their journey from the photo book they created chronicling their efforts.  Their book, as well as several prototypes and other artifacts from the project, will be on display at Bruce Museum as of July in a fitting supplement to the museum’s current Electricity exhibit (more science puns!).


CEPS in action!


#13 – The Battery Board (Patent Pending)

(Dr. G is a licensed Patent Agent so that could actually happen….)

James and Joey melded their passion for skateboarding with practicality, completely redesigning a standard skateboard to harness the energy of the rotation of the wheels to charge a rechargeable battery, which is then wired to a USB port, so that you can plug in and charge your cell phone or Jambox speaker.  If you were able to join us for our Innovation Lab Community Get Together a few weeks ago, then you probably got to see James and Joey exhibit their work in progress.  If you missed it, don’t worry!  Joey and James’ YouTube video contains their thoughts on project, as well as the comments and feedback of some community members.


#14 – The Solar-Powered Raspberry Pi

Anselmo, Richie, and Owen brought together their diverse talents in technology, coding, and building to craft a portable solar-charging station for a Raspberry Pi.  Now this small portable coding platform is even easier to use!!  Check out their Reddit post that includes detailed instructions for how you can make your own, including a complete parts list and a a downloadable STL file for their 3D printed battery holster.  The team then exhibited their work to a Greenwich High School coding class.  Feedback from the coding class and in comments on their Reddit post have been extremely positive – with ongoing design revisions being debated.  My favorite comment on the Reddit page: “Wish I had your skills in high school!”


Solar powered Raspberry Pi


WOW!!  Thanks for hanging in there ’til the end.  Brian and I are SO excited about what Innovation Lab students were able to accomplish in the course of this project, and we hope you have been as well.  Stay tuned for more exciting STEM project work in 2016-2017!!!


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