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Students to make blackberry juice solar power

Laurie Everett mtjulietnews@tds.net • Dec 15, 2015 at 1:52 PM

A group of Mt. Juliet High School chemistry students will soon learn the sweet taste of power. 

Chemistry teacher Gayle Hayes and 20 students will travel to Vanderbilt University to take part in some research next month sponsored by the Vanderbilt Institute of Nanoscale Science and Engineering. 

The project will allow them to make solar cells out of blackberry juice and measure the electrical power they produce.

This is the second year Hayes has taken her class to Vanderbilt's research labs.

"Our goal is to expose students to science beyond the high school lab, and give them an opportunity to talk with college students who are working on their graduate degrees about what it takes to be successful," she said. "We hope to encourage students who may be uncertain about what they want to pursue in college to consider science research."  

Sandra Rosenthal is the VINSE director and a chemistry professor at Vanderbilt.

Mt. Juliet High School is one of 20 high schools in Tennessee to participate in daylong field trips to the VINSE laboratories from March to May to get hands-on experience in science and technology. A group of Wilson Central High School students will do the project at Vanderbilt on April 26.

"This gives the students a hands-on introduction to the power of nanotechnology," said Rosenthal. "Many scientists and engineers believe that structuring solar cells on the nanoscale will lead to more efficient, less expensive devices that will encourage more widespread implementation of solar power."

She said the students will mash blackberries, extract the juice, soak an electrode in the juice, coat another electrode with graphite and clip them together to make a solar battery. 

She said the students will then measure the amount of electricity each cell produces and find out which one worked the best. 

The devices will produce enough "juice" to power a small calculator, Rosenthal said.

The students will also be able to use special microscopes in the lab, said Hayes. 

The high-powered scopes can magnify an object by 500,000 times.

"Hands-on experience in an area of national importance, such as renewable energy sources, helps students see a connection between what they are studying and real-world problems, " said Vanderbilt School of Engineering Dean Philippe Fauchet. "VINSE's relevant and engaging experiments may very well be the spark that inspires high school students to study science and engineering and pursue careers in those fields."

Hayes said she is excited about sharing the experience with her students.

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