Empathy and science – Changing the world

In Innovation Lab last week we explored renewable energy, playing around with solar, hydro, and chemical power.  As always, it was a fun and dirty day!

We went outside to explore solar energy and hydro power.  We used a small windmill (which also helped students think about wind power) with a solar panel to explore solar energy. The solar panel is on a fairly long cord, so students could manipulate the location of the cord and judge differences in the speed of the moving blades.  Given that it was 4:30 pm, they saw a distinct difference in speed when the panel was slanted towards the sun versus when it was lying flat (faster when slanted).  It was also noticeably faster when in the sun versus the shade, but did not stop when in the shade.

A student moves the solar panel around to explore solar energy

Students then worked as a group to assemble two small water wheels and test them with water from a jug.  They saw  pretty clearly how difficult it is to harness water – positioning everything just right to capture the energy from the water was rather difficult.  Then we went down the hill to find a small drainage stream at the edge of the Forestville campus and see if it had any moving energy.  We got a bit dirty trying to see if the water was moving at all – but alas, there was no hydro power generated from the mostly still water.

Students worked as a team to assemble water wheels
Looking for hydro power at Forestville

Back inside the students then explored chemical energy by trying their hand at potato batteries, after watching a short video on how to set them up.  Students hooked up potatoes, galvanized nails, copper pennies and wires, and a battery tester.  Although we were able to generate some power from our small batteries, we were not able to get the right setup of several potatoes to light up a small light.  But we had fun trying.  We did notice a difference between cooked and raw potatoes, with cooked potatoes generating visibly more power on the battery tester.

Testing the potato battery
Testing the potato battery

The Empathy Connection

We learned about a researcher (from a 2013 BBC article) who has found that cooked potatoes generate more power than raw potatoes, and is working to advance this idea for poor people with access to potatoes, but not power. We discussed how his empathy for people around the world without power led him to his discovery, and how such a small change – cooking potatoes – could have widespread beneficial impacts on people all over the world.  We discussed what empathy is – understanding and sharing feelings and emotions with others and showing that you care – and learned about the iSchool steps for showing empathy: Recognize, Remember, Share, and Care.

Many students ended class with an art project – turning their potato batteries into sculptures!

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