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UW Students Conduct Solar Energy Experiment

April 19, 2021
students work on solar project outside
Junior Kaytlyn VanderMeer (chemical engineering) and junior Abigail Blesi (chemistry) make adjustments to their solar concentrator as Professor Bruce Parkinson measures their produced energy.

Students in Professor Bruce Parkinson’s Solar Energy Conversion class took advantage of a sunny spring day this semester to conduct a solar energy challenge as part of their course work.

The fun project is a highlight in the course where students are divided into teams, and venture out on a day with no clouds for a little friendly competition.  

Armed only with four small solar panels, some cardboard, aluminum foil, and a trusty roll of duct tape, the students are challenged to configure their equipment however they wish in order to construct a solar concentrator to maximize the output of their solar cells. At the end of the experiment, the team producing the most power is the winner.

“I’ve done this exercise now for about five or six years,” says Parkinson. “It’s a fun learning experience for the students and it gets them outside on a nice day.”

Most of the students in the class are chemists and engineers, but the interdisciplinary course is open to undergraduate and graduate students in energy-related fields, including students from the School of Energy Resources‘ (SER) Energy Resource Management and Development (ERMD) degree program.

Typically, the course is only offered every other year, but there has been an increased demand in recent years. The course provides an overview of the science behind current and future solar thermal and photovoltaic technologies as well as energy storage solutions. Additionally, it explores the hot button issues at the forefront of current energy discussions such as the environmental aspects, legal issues, and the declining costs associated with solar energy.

“It is really rewarding to work with these bright and committed students who realize that the world needs to transition to renewable energy in order to preserve the climate and ecosystems for their and their children’s future,” adds Parkinson.

A distinguished professor of chemistry at the School of Energy Resources, Parkinson made a name for himself in the academic world as a renowned solar energy researcher. Recognized internationally in the field, Parkinson joined the faculty at the University of Wyoming in 2008 after leading a research group at Colorado State University for nearly seventeen years.

Prior to his teaching career in higher education, Parkinson was a research chemist for DuPont Central Research and Development from 1985-1991. Before that, he was a senior scientist at the Solar Energy Research Institute for four years. He is the author of more than 260 publications in professional journals, and holds four U.S. patents. Parkinson’s research has been funded by several agencies including the Department of Energy and National Science Foundation, and he is a consultant and reviewer for many private companies and government agencies.

He received a B.S. degree (1972) in chemistry at Iowa State University, and earned a Ph.D. in chemistry (1977) at California Institute of Technology and did post-doctoral studies at Bell Laboratories (1978).

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