Older Posts on this Blog

Project iLASER is an endeavor to celebrate the International Year of Chemistry, supported by a generous grant from the U.S. National Science Foundation (grant no. CHE 1118663).

Don't miss any of the content of this blog. Follow the links in the
BLOG ARCHIVE to read previous posts.

It is probably best to read the posts in chronological order, beginning with the May 2011 entry.

Also, click on the images found herein to see them in full size.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

A Grand Time in the Rio Grande Valley!

Yeah, that's me, proudly wearing my Jefferson Elementary Tigers shirt, doing my best to learn the Tiger Dance (in front of hundreds of really bright students from Jefferson Elementary).
What can I say but: "Wow!"? I left El Paso back on October 1 and now find myself back in El Paso once again --- nine days of time, 1,800 miles of journey and hundreds of smiles from young Rio Grande Valley solar scientists later.  The events in McAllen and Harlingen went wonderfully, and the reception I received made me feel like a rock star (in addition to the truck driver, roadie and janitor roles I've been playing during this adventure!).

While in McAllen, Project iLASER events were held on Tuesday October 4 at Carman Elementary School, which is in the Pharr-San Juan-Alamo (PSJA) Independent School District, and at William Jefferson Clinton Elementary School in rural Penitas, TX, part of the La Joya Independent School District on Wednesday October 5.   Carman Elementary posted the Project iLASER event they hosted on the district calendar.

Shortly after the event on Wednesday at Clinton Elementary I moved eastward down The Valley to Harlingen, where I conducted in-service training for some staff and teachers at Jefferson Elementary School on Thursday October 6 in preparation for the main Project iLASER event held at the school on Friday October 7.  The following photos and their captions ought to provide a good sense of the awesome fun and meaningful science adventures that took place during that week in The Valley.  Furthermore, the Valley Morning Star published a nice ARTICLE about the event at Jefferson Elementary.

Solar Fun at Carman Elementary School

There's a rock star's mug if ever there was a rock star's mug!  I will drink proudly from this and remember fondly the many wonderful people at Carman Elementary school each time I use it.  

That rock star mug was buried inside this wonderful collection of goodies the staff at Carman Elementary so generously gave me.  A big THANK YOU goes out to my friends at Carman Elementary!

These are the students from South Texas College who assisted at the event at Carman Elementary.  Left to right: Juan, Jessica, yours truly, Jorge and Dyandra.  They are excellent ambassadors of science and great role models for the children! 

How's that for an excited group of solar scientists??!!  The students at Carman Elementary were surely excited to participate in the scientific experiments.  Congratulations to Ms. Trevino, who teaches science, and ALL of the teachers and staff at Carman Elementary for preparing such fine students!

Look at that brave young man putting his fingers into those laser beams to stop the music!  There was no fear on his face, and he walked away with all 10 of his fingers in tact.

Judge for yourself: Do these Carman Elementary students look ready to build some solar cells?

Here's an idea: If we climb closer to the sun, we should produce more power from our solar cells, shouldn't we?

Yes, indeed.  We now have irrefutable evidence that science really IS a form of recreation!

Chemistry Abounds at Clinton Elementary School

The event at Clinton Elementary reached a very large number of students who got hands-on experiences.  I'm SO grateful for the help of the students and faculty member from South Texas College who participated in the event.  We were able to work with all of the 4th and 5th graders --- approximately 250 of them.  That's surely a LOT of solar-powered fun!!

Here's a large group of students from Clinton Elementary School who enjoyed getting their hands on some cool science experiments.  Keep in mind, this group photo only contains less than half of the total students who participated.  It was surely a large group of solar scientists!

There I am, facing a sea of bright red shirts worn proudly by the talented scientists at Clinton Elementary.  We had a great discussion about energy sources, photosynthesis and how these very students may discover practical ways to use sunlight to power the planet.  The Coyotes of W.J. Clinton Elementary School are bound for greatness!

We're getting our safety gear on and having a pre-experiment discussion on constructing and testing dye-sensitized solar cells.  Check out the results of those tests below!

Check it out!  There's the same crew from the photo above, and their solar cell is producing 440 millivolts of electric potential.  The combination of south Texas sunshine and the talent of the Clinton Elementary solar scientists can accomplish excellent results!

Here's another group of young scientists from Clinton Elementary.  Their solar cell produced 433 millivolts in full sunlight --- another great job!  See their follow-up experiment below.

Same group as above with same solar cell: Block the sunlight, and the voltage drops quickly --- down to 250 millivolts when the photo was snapped, as it ultimately dropped to nearly 0 millivolts.  Is that solar cell really transforming the sun's light energy to electrical energy?  You bet it is!!  Another fine job by the Clinton scientists!!

There's Dyandra, one of the great volunteers from South Texas College, demonstrating to the young scientists from Clinton Elementary how they can store that abundant south Texas solar energy as hydrogen fuel.

Though not visible in the photo, South Texas College student Juan Gonzalez was leading this group in some hands-on exploration of the potential of powering the planet with sunlight.   There are now hundreds of new believers in the Rio Grande Valley who have faith in the power of the sun to get us through an energy crisis.  These young future leaders will undoubtedly make great contributions to the cause!

The Tigers of Jefferson Elementary School are GRRRREAT!

Jefferson Elementary School first grade teachers Ms. Amanda Gomez (left) and Ms. Patricia Romo (right) opened the morning assembly with a fine portrayal as science "nerds" in a very entertaining manner.  They were a tough act to follow!

Harlingen, TX is a short distance (relatively speaking) to the Gulf of Mexico and served as the "finish line" event of my trek from the western terminus of the border to the eastern terminus.  The students, teachers and staff and Jefferson Elementary School surely did provide a great welcome and made me feel as if I truly were the first person to cross a finish line in a race.

How's that for a warm welcome?!  Thanks so much Jefferson Elementary!

As previously mentioned above, my visit on Thursday October 6 was for in-service training of teachers and staff in the principles and techniques taught through the Project iLASER curriculum.  By their questions and the copious note-taking on their part, it was obvious they were very interested and serious to embrace the opportunity to incorporate science education through sustainable energy into their curriculum.

The event on Friday October 6 commenced with a school-wide assembly, followed by science activities across all grade levels.  The 135 or so 4th and 5th graders participated in the Project iLASER activities, but all of the other grades also had some great science fun as well.   There was something very exciting in the air that day!

**Special thanks go out to Ms. Burbach, the Librarian at Jefferson Elementary School, for providing me with many great photos she took of the day's events.**

Here are Jefferson Elementary students fired-up for science!

Here are my fine assistants demonstrating how water molecules can be rearranged to produce oxygen and hydrogen.  Later that day we went outside and used cool science to allow the sun to carry out that same transformation of water into oxygen and hydrogen.

There was no shortage of excellent questions posed by these curious scientists at Jefferson Elementary.  The young man in the black hooded sweatshirt is my new friend Julian.  He's a great inventor with a wonderful imagination and desire to learn.  Keep up the great work, Julian!

My new scientific colleague Julian and I were having a deep discussion about how we can work together to find solutions to the problems society faces.  He and the other students at Jefferson are well aware that education is at the heart of that quest!

There are Ms. Gomez and Ms. Romo again, along with Principal Manuel Olivo, who really organized a wonderful event at Jefferson Elementary.  The students and staff are very fortunate to have him at the helm.

A group of 5th graders were getting seated in the science lab for our pre-laboratory discussion on light and how we can use light to power the planet. 

Here's a group getting ready to explore the solar-hydrogen activities.

Oh yeah.  They're well on their way to understanding the principles of using sunlight as a clean, sustainable source of power.

Constructing dye-sensitized solar cells??  Sure...bring 'em on.  We're ready to go!

Completed product ready for testing.  Let's go grab some sunlight!

Hey look!  We did it!  Our solar cell is changing sunlight into electricity!!


  1. You are an awesome teacher!

  2. Thank you, Anonymous. It's very kind of you to leave that comment. However, I think the children are naturally drawn to getting their hands on cool science exploration.

    Anyone can be a great teacher. One simply has to present it to them at a level they can grasp the concepts, put the materials in their hands and let 'em go! :)

  3. I agree with Anonymous, Dave. You are above and beyond. Keep makin' a difference! :)

  4. Well howdy, Leslie! It's great to hear from you. Thanks so very much for your complimentary words.

    I think you just added strong evidence to support one of the ancient perceptions of mankind: "It takes one to know one". As an "above and beyond" individual yourself, you could surely recognize another! [smile]

    Thanks again & keep doing the great things YOU are doing to make a difference!