WATERLOO | Rooftop solar panels have been used for years to gather the sun’s power and provide homes with electricity.
But Nyja Scott wondered if she could more directly use the sun for a smaller task: charging a cell phone.
So, with the guidance of a George Washington Carver Academy teacher, the sixth grader got a solar panel about the size of a cell phone. She attached wires and a plug. Scott then connected the device to her cell phone and began testing it.
She laid out the results of her experiment Tuesday for judges and spectators during the inaugural Waterloo Middle School Science Fair at the Grout Museum.
Scott was one of 26 students displaying 16 projects during the after-school event. Participating sixth through eighth graders also hailed from Bunger, Central and Hoover middle schools.
Scott tested her solar charger at various times of day and even tried drawing her source of light from a lamp. Eight of her 10 tests failed and the other two had limited success.
She got it to charge “when it was a really sunny day outside and I had left it out longer than I usually would.” Even then, the sun provided only enough of a charge to turn on the phone. During her other successful attempt, the phone charged for a limited amount of time.
Since her research showed solar chargers are commercially available, she knew the idea was viable. Scott decided her charger “wasn’t big enough to take all that energy.”
Students could choose a traditional science fair project, like Scott, or complete one of five other options.
The fair was organized by Waterloo Community Schools’ STEM coordinator Angela Francis and the Grout’s science outreach coordinator Jason Dornbush.
“I took on the school side of things and found some funds for supporting teacher pay,” said Francis. After she and Dornbush talked to middle school science classes, interested students started meeting once a week with teachers in late October.
Students had to present their teacher with a research plan outlining what they wanted to accomplish.
About 20 judges participated in the event, said Dornbush, with the largest number coming from John Deere and the University of Northern Iowa.
“They ranked students, gave feedback and hopefully some encouragement, too, so they’re able to make some tweaks and go on to a higher level,” he added. Students will be invited to participate in two other science fairs later this month in other parts of the state.
Hoover seventh graders Regan Davis and Alyson Hurley presented an invention at the fair, the Highchair Helper. They created a PVC pipe frame that attaches the legs of a highchair using a hook system. A thick sheet of plastic is attached to the frame with Velcro.
“We designed this so when babies push food off their highchair it catches here,” said Davis, indicating the plastic sheet.
“We did three tests, one with raisins, cereal and apples,” added Hurley.
Central sixth grader Madison Logue created a stench with her project, which had reddish brown “lava” bubbling over the rim of a volcano she designed to fit on a tray. The tray was also decorated with small toy dinosaurs and palm trees. The mixture coming out of the volcano was made with baking soda, vinegar, warm water, dish soap and food coloring.
Why did she want to do this project? “Well, volcanoes are just really fun to learn about,” she said.
Francis and Dornbush decided it would be best to start the science fair with middle school students.
“I knew from my experience that it really takes getting started at that level,” she said. “We hope in the next three years or so that we might be able to make this a middle-high school science fair.”