STEM gets greener: Promoting critical thinking using renewable energy technology

Dec 17, 2009

Can building model cars really help create the next generation of electric vehicle designers and engineers? Researchers at North Carolina State University think so. Through a recent grant, they will develop a curriculum that uses real-world applications of renewable energy technologies to teach science, technology, engineering and mathematics - known as STEM concepts.

The project, Green Research for Incorporating Data in the Classroom (GRIDc), uses renewable energy technologies as a learning tool to foster cognitive skill development and promote critical thinking and problem solving. This not only teaches new "green" sciences, but allows students to make practical informed decisions - such as comparing energy sources in .

"Students have a general knowledge of concepts such as wind and solar power, but they generally do not understand the pros and cons of different types of renewable energy systems," says Dr. Bill DeLuca, associate professor of technology education at NC State and principal investigator on the project. "Through this research, we are able to provide them data so they can understand and decide for themselves how well these systems work - and in what sorts of applications."

The $400,000 National Science Foundation (NSF) grant builds upon a previous $200,000 NSF grant that collected data from renewable energy technologies at the N.C. Solar Center to teach undergraduate courses. As a small part of the initial grant, the team held workshops for middle and high school students. The immense success of the workshops led to the development of STEP (Sustainable Transportation Electrification Program), a program partially funded by GRIDc, which includes two pilot electric vehicle competitions. Ten N.C. middle schools will hold contests to develop remote-controlled, battery-operated cars. Six N.C. high schools will also build the model cars, in addition to solar charging stations to operate the model vehicles.

"We know there is a big misconception among people about electric vehicles - like the differences between hybrid and electric vehicles. And, with President Obama's announcement of $2.4 billion for the electrification of transportation, we need a well-trained workforce and informed consumers - it's a paradigm shift for American society," says Dr. Pam Carpenter, a project coordinator at the N.C. Solar Center and co-principal investigator. "What we've found is that these students are actually able to go home and educate their parents about renewable energy."

Carpenter adds that GRIDc was one of 17 projects recently featured at the NSF technology showcase on Capitol Hill.

Working with DeLuca and Carpenter is a team of researchers at NC State including Dr. Len Annetta, associate professor of science education, Dr. Aaron Clark, associate professor of graphic communications, and Dr. Joseph DeCarolis, assistant professor of environmental engineering.

The initial grant funded the development of a monitoring system that provides students with energy and power readings from multiple renewable energy technologies at the Solar Center. These technologies include photovoltaics, wind turbines, solar thermal, and hydrogen fuel cell systems, which can be referenced against meteorological data such as wind speed, the sun's irradiance, ambient temperature, and module temperature. All of these variables can affect the performance of the photovoltaic system. The second phase of the grant, which launched in September, will expand data collection by adding sensors to wind turbines in North Carolina's Outer Banks. Additional data on plug-in hybrid electric vehicles will come from Progress Energy and Advanced Energy, as well as from charging stations for electric vehicles.

"We're teaching students about , but we're doing it in a way that complements the material they are already learning in the classroom - such as how to make graphs, look at trend analyses or work with different data types," DeLuca says. "So part of our job is working with the teachers to help them incorporate this information into their curriculum."

Explore further: In Vermont, a milestone in green-energy efforts

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

NREL Estimates U.S. Hybrid Electric Vehicle Fuel Savings

Jun 21, 2007

Hybrid electric vehicles have saved close to 230 million gallons – or 5.5 million barrels – of fuel in the United States since their introduction in 1999, according to a recent analysis conducted at the U. S. Department ...

NREL, Xcel energy sign wind to hydrogen research agreement

May 08, 2006

The U.S. Department of Energy's, National Renewable Energy Laboratory and Xcel Energy recently signed a cooperative agreement for an innovative "wind to hydrogen" research, development and demonstration project. Researchers ...

Solar Cars Driving Towards A Hydrogen Future

Sep 26, 2005

Competitors in this week's Panasonic World Solar Challenge will be demonstrating some of the fundamental technical innovations driving us towards the hydrogen economy, according to event partner, CSIRO.

Recommended for you

Toyota, Grenoble set stage for test in ride-sharing

22 hours ago

Toyota is testing ride-sharing. As simple as that may sound, the experiment indicates an innovative model for the future of urban transportation. The Grenoble metro area could turn out to be the trial stage ...

Sparks fly as Di Grassi wins first electric race

23 hours ago

A spectacular crash at the last corner that ended leader Nicolas Prost's race and sent ex-F1 driver Nick Heidfeld flying into the fencing gave Brazil's Lucas di Grassi victory in the first ever Formula E ...

First electric car race to zoom off on Saturday

Sep 12, 2014

Formula E will be a laboratory for new technology, according to motor sport great Alain Prost, while Bruno Senna said drivers will face a "lottery" when electric car racing kicks off in Beijing Saturday.

User comments : 0