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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, September 29, 2011

Learning in Las Cruces

This blog entry was created in a hotel room in El Paso, TX.

Two fine Project iLASER events were held in Las Cruces this week.  One event was held Monday September 26th at the Main Clubhouse of the Boys & Girls Club of Las Cruces, and the other was held on Tuesday September 27th at a satellite site of the Boys & Girls Club located at Mesilla Park Elementary School.  A reporter from the Las Cruces Sun-News stopped by the event on Monday and posted a brief ARTICLE and a couple of photos of the fun we had that day.  That same article was picked up by the El Paso Times.  The event was also announced on the website for the United Way of Southwest New Mexico.

I was super-busy during the event at the Main Clubhouse and wasn't able to take many photos.  However, Club Program Director Brian Johnson took several photos, and I'm grateful to him for providing them to me.  However, at Mesilla Park Elementary School event, I had help from a Club volunteer known as "Mr. T." who snapped a few photos, and once I got the children started on the solar-hydrogen activities I was able to grab some great snapshots myself (great due to the subject, not the photographer!).

Some snapshots from the event at the Main Clubhouse

We're preparing to build some dye-sensitized solar cells to capture some of that abundant Las Cruces sunshine and convert it to electricity.

These Las Cruces solar scientists have dyed the titanium dioxide on one electrode with blackberry juice and are now at the point to assemble it with the counter electrode coated in carbon (candle soot).  Soon they'll have a finished product ready for testing in the sunlight.

Before heading out into the sunshine to make the photovoltaic (converting light into electricity) measurements of the solar cells they constructed, these scientists are learning about making electrical measurements with multimeters using batteries.  They already know that batteries make electricity.  Building on their prior knowledge that experience can be extended to the production and measurement of electricity from a photovoltaic source.

Preparing to make a measurement of the home-made dye-sensitized solar cell.

How 'bout that?  Another successful solar cell has been built!
Hey, let me have a look, too!

Photos from Mesilla Park Elementary School

The group at the Mesilla Park Elementary School event was on the young end of the spectrum of solar scientists --- mostly 6 to 9 year-olds.  However, I'm a firm believer that youthful curiosity is the driver of innovation and discovery, and children of this age group are excellent recipients of the message of the importance and excitement of scientific exploration.  I believe the photos below are evidence to support my claim.

Here's part of the Mesilla Elementary crew of solar scientists.

One of the favorite demonstrations is shining green and red laser light through green and red gummy bears.  It's a wonderful way to demonstrate how we see color and the concept of complementary colors and the basic color wheel.

No gummy bears were injured in this demonstration of light, color and vision!

Connecting the lasers & gummy bears experiment to the color wheel.

Once we learned a bit about the nature of light & color, we can explore how light can be applied for important uses, such as medical applications (and ultimately culminating with experiments that demonstrate the potential of using sunlight to power the planet).  Everyone had an opportunity to measure their levels of oxygen saturation in the blood, and, after the lesson about complementary colors, these children were very readily able to predict which color of light (red) would be used in the pulse oximeter!

He had 98% oxygen saturation in his blood - the picture of health!

These two solar scientists worked together to rearrange the atoms in models of two water molecules.

The two children in the photo above rearranged the atoms in models of two water molecules, joining hydrogen exclusively with hydrogen and oxygen exclusively with oxygen.  They ultimately made two molecules of hydrogen and one molecule of oxygen.  They next allowed sunlight to rearrange those bonds in water "for real" and then used the hydrogen produced through that process to power electronic devices (flashing LEDs) using a hydrogen fuel cell.  Furthermore, twice the volume of hydrogen gas was collected in a syringe as the volume of oxygen gas collected.  The experiment matched the prediction shown with the models.  How cool is that?!

They're in a "zone", working diligently to capture some of the sun's energy and store it in the chemical bonds of hydrogen gas produced by splitting water with electricity produced by the solar panel.

There's six year old Emma showing her mom the potential for powering the planet with sunlight!

Monday, September 26, 2011

Breathing Room in Las Cruces

From Las Cruces, NM, at the nexus of Mexico, Texas and New Mexico (Click to enlarge image).
This past weekend provided a chance to catch my breath and reverse the (figurative) hypoxia I've been experiencing over the course of the first week of the Project iLASER journey.  I was able to do laundry, clean some conducting glass electrodes used to build dye-sensitized solar cells with the kiddos, make some repairs to some of the materials that got banged around on some of the back roads of Arizona and get organized for the four events this week (two here in Las Cruces and two in El Paso, TX).  Obviously I'm also now getting a chance to churn out a few paragraphs to give accounts of the events in Yuma, AZ and Nogales, AZ and some general glimpses into life on the road with Project iLASER.

Assorted images from the road

The desk of a Holiday Inn Express hotel room suffices as a laboratory bench.

A sunny window sill also works well to test a setup.

Note the different volumes of gases in the syringes.  Chemistry quiz question: Based solely on comparing the two volumes, which syringe contains hydrogen gas?

Fun times at the Carpe Diem Academy in Yuma, AZ - Monday September 19, 2011

The good folks a the Carpe Diem Academy were very enthusiastic about the Project iLASER activities.  Many thanks to Principal Sciarretta and all the teachers and staff for accommodating us so very well!  The students were very attentive and had a great deal of interest in the prospect of powering the planet with sunlight.  They asked a lot of great questions, gave wonderful answers when posed with questions and wanted to know why we aren't already using sunlight in greater abundance to supply our energy needs.  In addition to the selection of photos from Yuma below, there are more in an online album HERE.

Yep, ol' Honest Abe there on the wall would be very proud of these solar scientists in Yuma!

Oh yeah...these guys were surely fired up!
Hey!  Look what we built! Let's go OUTside and test it.

Success!  That solar cell is converting sunlight into electricity.

A great event at the Boys & Girls Club of Santa Cruz County
Nogales, AZ - Thursday September 22, 2011

Nogales, AZ is a very quaint town right on the border.  Scenes of "the fence" are stark and somber.  I'm really doing my best to keep this blog apolitical and won't offer commentary about my feelings about "the fence".  I'll let the photos speak for me.  Hopefully you can hear the message...

The fence is an obvious feature in Nogales, following the curves of the hillsides in this photo.

Nogales, AZ (~21,000 pop. - 2010 census) adjoins Nogales, Sonora, Mexico (~212,000 pop. - 2010 census).

This is worth at least 1,000 words...

Thursday the 22nd of September was an awesome day.  I was very impressed with the crew at the Boys & Girls Club of Santa Cruz County in Nogales, AZ.  Vicki Barden, Roger Remlinger, J.P. Gonzalez and all the staff and volunteers at the Club do a great job providing the children with an excellent environment to learn and grow.  

The entrance to the Boys & Girls Club of Santa Cruz County.
The banner informs Club members and their parents/guardians of the day's event.

The Club has a group of high school students known as Very Important Peers (VIPs) who were awesome assistants during the Project iLASER event.  The photos below are a selection from a larger number found in the album HERE.

Club staff and VIPs (in red vests) helped set up and carry out the Project iLASER event.

That's Andrea (left) and Victoria (right) having a great time!  Children are naturals when it comes to getting their hands on cool devices and learning to use them. Who thought learning to use a multimeter could be so fun?  Victoria already sees herself becoming a prosecutor.  With her natural talent and high curiosity, in addition to the law, I have a feeling she also has some advanced science in her future too --- perhaps a patent attorney? :)

What's the voltage?  More importantly: When do we dig into those blackberries?

Now THAT is a group eager to build dye-sensitized solar cells!

They successfully coverted Nogales sunlight into electricty!

Staff member J.P. Gonzalez and these two young ladies stayed overtime and built more cells using indoor lighting.  The one on the right is Victoria from above.  She simply couldn't get enough of the hands-on science explorations!

Illuminating the solar cell with the small flashlight more than doubled the voltage output.
As is very easily seen from the photos above, there was no shortage of enthusiasm for getting their hands on the solar activities.  Some stayed until after the sun was too low in the sky and used indoor lighting with great success.  Many lessons were learned and seeds were planted into the imaginations of the group in Nogales.  Thanks to all of them for showing me a great time!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

News from Nogales

Here's the location from where I'm currently writing (Click to enlarge image).
It never ceases to amaze me how rapidly time passes and how it seems to accelerate incessantly.  Has it really been nearly four months since that first post on this blog?  Yikes!  This summer has been a non-stop, fast-forward adventure!  I'm sitting in the Holiday Inn Express in beautiful Nogales, AZ, just about 3 or 4 km north of the U.S.-Mexico border, getting ready for an event in a few hours at the Boys & Girls Club of Santa Cruz County --- the 5th Project iLASER event --- and I'm just now able to catch my breath and update this blog.

The summer was filled with travel to multiple conferences and conducting workshops.  June was consumed with travel to Washington, D.C. for an NSF Broadening Impact Conference and preparations for the two workshops in back-to-back weeks in July: a workshop on Materials Science and Nanotechnology held at Southwestern College (SWC) and a workshop in Reno, NV on NSF proposal preparation for two-year college STEM educators.

August and September have been a blur of travel to San Juan, Puerto Rico for the IUPAC World Chemistry Congress, the ACS National Meeting in Denver and to amazing Querétaro, Mexico for the annual Congress of the Chemical Society of Mexico (La Sociedad Química de México)

Three days after returning from San Juan, on August 11, a very successful kick-off event for Project iLASER was held at the Boys & Girls Club of Chula Vista, CA.   Ms. Diane Taylor and all the staff at the club were very supportive and helpful, and the children at the club (some of whom will undoubtedly become future solar scientists and engineers!) were wonderfully enthusiastic about the hands-on fun and made the start to Project iLASER fantastic.
Here's a glimpse of some solar fun in the warm Chula Vista sun!

A huge amount of gratitude is also expressed to the project volunteers who came and rolled up their sleeves to pitch in and to Congressman Bob Filner, who also participated in the science fun that day.  Many, many thanks to Carolyn Patterson from the Caltech CCI Solar for driving down from Pasadena to volunteer at the event and for also taking some really great PHOTOS of the activities.

Project iLASER events were held at the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Imperial Valley in Brawley, CA and El Centro, CA on August 17 and 18, respectively.  Photos from those events can be found by clicking the following links for Brawley and El Centro.  The children and staff at the clubs were a lot of fun and exceedingly good troopers to endure the August temperatures in the Imperial Valley in the neighborhood of 115 deg. F. (46 deg. C).  Of course we limited the time spent outdoors to short periods, but the "heat" didn't detract from the experience with the "cool" solar science activities!

The local newspaper, the Imperial Valley Press, visited the event in El Centro and published an ARTICLE, which contains some wonderful comments by children, regarding their enjoyment of the hands-on science adventures.  I love it!!  Engaging young minds, creativity and imagination in scientific endeavors, particularly those related to using sunlight to power the planet, is what Project iLASER is ALL about, folks!!  The Chicago Tribune also picked up the same ARTICLE

My head is still spinning from the events of the past week.  I returned from Querétaro 7 days ago, on the eventing of Thursday September 15.  Friday I picked up the U-Haul cargo van, spent much of Saturday and part of Sunday loading and securing the materials and supplies to be used and distributed to the various institutions from one end of the border to the other and left Sunday afternoon for Yuma, AZ.

Monday a Project iLASER event was held at the Carpe Diem Academy in Yuma, and Tuesday I spent a good portion of the morning working in a chemistry lab at Arizona Western College to prepare more electrodes for the dye-sensitized solar cells for the children to construct and test.  Thanks to my friend and Project iLASER partner, Professor Scott Donnelly for allowing me access to the lab.  Tuesday afternoon/evening I made the trek from Yuma to Nogales, and yesterday I visited the Boys & Girls Club to discuss the plans and logistics for today's event.  This project is providing me with a life in perpetual motion, and I have a post-it note on the van's dashboard reminding me to breathe! :)

There's the van with the SWC Chemistry building in the background.
And the flip side of the van, of course promoting IYC 2011!
Speaking of the U-Haul van, I want to extend my gratitude to Ms. Melina López, former SWC student and current U-Haul guru, who helped me greatly with the arrangements to acquire the van.  I am also grateful for the generous rate the U-Haul company provided me, in support of Project iLASER.

Well, I'm running out of time for today's entry.  I still need to work on some preparations for today's event and check out of the hotel.  Soon I'll be surrounded by the children and staff at the Boys & Girls Club here in Nogales, watching them smile and be amazed by the process of using sunlight to provide clean, sustainable energy to power the planet.  Could I be more blessed than to have such a calling and an opportunity to carry out this project?  I don't think so... :)

This weekend I'll regroup (laundry, supplies and blogging) in Las Cruces, NM and will give accounts of the events in Yuma and Nogales.  Until then, stay tuned...