School may be out, but we are still as energized as ever about energy education. Have fun and explore the world around you through energy-focused, hands-on STEM activities. We’ll be providing activities and social media content to help keep your family engaged and enjoying summer together.
Our first activity this summer is a DIY solar oven! This activity is great because you can customize it for any age. Feel free to follow the list of suggested materials and steps, or try it on your own and see where your imagination takes you.
Build Your Solar Oven
- Solar power
- Energy transfer
- Thermal energy
- Pizza or shoebox
- Aluminum foil
- Plastic wrap
- Black construction paper
- Scissors or box knife
- Thermometer (optional)
- A hot & sunny summer day
- Using the scissors or box knife, cut a flap open in the top of your box. Try to cut or fold the flap so that it stands up by itself or prop it open with a stick or ruler. (Safety First! Have an adult help you when using a box cutter.)
- Wrap the inner side of the flap with aluminum foil to reflect the sunlight.
- Using the plastic wrap, create a window for the sunlight to enter the inside of the box. Make sure it is airtight, or your oven will not effectively trap the heat. To do this, open the box and tape a double layer of plastic wrap over the opening from the flap.
- Line the inside of the box with black construction paper. Black has a low albedo (meaning it absorbs sunlight well) and will make your oven hotter. Set your thermometer inside the box, somewhere you can see it through the window when the box is closed.
- Set your oven outside in a sunny spot and adjust the flap so the sunlight reflects off the aluminum foil and into the window. Let your oven heat up with the sun’s thermal energy until it has reached the desired temperature.
- Cook something delicious! Some popular items for solar ovens include s’mores, cookies and personal pizzas. (Safety First! Use oven mitts or ask an adult for help if you remove any dishes from the oven.)
Talk About It
Building a solar oven is an exciting way to learn all about solar energy and how we can use it to power our lives. Think about what worked and what didn’t.
- Did the oven not retain heat well? Try looking for any cracks that heat may be escaping through and seal them.
- Did the food take too long to cook? Try experimenting with putting the food in glass or dark-coated baking dishes.
- Try putting it out at different times of the day or using different materials and see if it performs differently.
We’ll be posting energy topics related to this experiment on social media throughout the month to extend the learning. Also, watch for two more Summer Energy experiments in July and August.
History of the Solar Oven
The modern solar oven was developed by Maria Telkes in the 1950s. She was commissioned by the Ford Foundation to create a way for people all over the world without access to gas or electric stoves. Her solar oven could reach temperatures of over 400 degrees and was safe enough for children to use. Not only did Telkes’ technology help those in remote areas cook their food, but it also was adapted to help farmers dry their crops and is still in use today!
Nicknamed the Sun Queen, Telkes was a crucial part of the solar energy movement. We want to help continue her legacy as we educate about our natural resources and encourage classrooms and families to explore all the ways solar energy can be used.