Geared toward young students in hopes of fostering greater interest in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields in the state of Arkansas, the GREEN Mobile Solar Energy Laboratory has been funded by a sizeable grant from the Arkansas Energy Office, a division of the Arkansas Economic Development Commission. The project has been a collaborative effort, garnering input from undergraduate students like Justin Westbrook and faculty from each of the University of Arkansas campuses, as well as Philander Smith College in Little Rock over the past year.
Honors engineering student Justin Westbrook, a freshman this year, has been hard at work designing experiments for the University’s new GREEN Mobile Solar Energy Laboratory, an impressively green 33-foot-long Winnebago that has been converted for educational use. Justin has been involved with the GREEN Lab since last December, working alongside honors engineering student Jakeb Hughes to prepare for the project’s first round of critiques next month. A group of middle school teachers from around the state will serve as a “beta-testers” for the collection of hands-on experiments designed to teach their students more about optics, circuits, and solar panels used to harness and produce solar energy. A curriculum is being developed to educate the K-12 teachers before the GREEN Lab visits so that the solar energy experiments can be fully integrated into each teacher’s normal lesson plans.
Chancellor Gearhart was honored to cut the ceremonial ribbon during the launch party for the mobile outreach vehicle and mentioned that the University of Arkansas was “thrilled and excited” to be a part of the state’s latest renewable energy initiative. Westbrook and several other engineering students were on hand for the GREEN Lab’s big reveal to demonstrate a few of the numerous experiments they have designed for use in the lab. Of his time spent working on the GREEN Lab, Justin remarks, “I would say that my favorite part of the project has been the final construction of the lab, having to overcome all of the minor design flaws. Over the project I’ve really learned about the difficulties of designing experiments and demonstrations that are easily repeatable by others, especially young children.” Justin revealed that the ultraviolet or “black light” experiments, used to demonstrate light absorption and the reaction of phosphors, were some of his favorites, sure to be a hit with middle school students. If the experiments aren’t impressive enough, the six 230-watt solar panels mounted on the driver’s side of the vehicle are sure to make quite a statement, designed to provide enough energy to power the lab’s equipment, computers, and television for a two-hour period during school demonstrations.
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