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Build Your Own Helio Tracker—a Self-powered Mechanical Sunflower that Turns with the Sun *

Difficulty
Time Required Very Long (1+ months)
Prerequisites Experience designing and building mechanical devices is preferred, or at least the willingness to invest many hours designing, testing, and re-designing.
Material Availability You will need a photovoltaic panel, approximately 200 square cm.
Cost Average ($50 - $100)
Safety No issues
*Note: This is an abbreviated Project Idea, without notes to start your background research, a specific list of materials, or a procedure for how to do the experiment. You can identify abbreviated Project Ideas by the asterisk at the end of the title. If you want a Project Idea with full instructions, please pick one without an asterisk.

Abstract

The amount of energy produced by most photovoltaic (solar) panels is limited, due to their immobility. However, when photovoltaic panels track the movement of the Sun, their efficiency increases significantly. This can be done with computers and sophisticated electronics, but for rural or wilderness settings, a "low-tech" sun tracker would be beneficial. A solution exists in nature: the sunflower. The challenge in this science fair project is to design and build a device that imitates the sunflower's ability to continually turn its face toward the Sun. Like the sunflower, your device should not rely on any form of electronics. One way to approach this problem was described by Jonathan T. Ota in his project, Helio Tracker, presented at the 2009 California State Science Fair (CSSF). In Jonathan's design, a parabolic mirror focuses light on a central bottle, shown in Figure 1.



Engineering Science Project Picture of heliotracker.

Figure 1. Helio tracker.



Within the bottle, alcohol absorbs heat and undergoes a phase change to create pressure. The pressure moves through lengths of tubing to one or more pistons. The movement of the pistons causes the face of the "flower" to turn toward the light. You can read about Jonathon's results at the CSSF website. If you like to build things and find this challenging science fair project intriguing, get started building your own helio tracker.

Credits

Jonathon T. Ota.

This science fair project was inspired by the following science fair project, presented at the 2009 California State Science Fair:

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MLA Style

Science Buddies Staff. "Build Your Own Helio Tracker—a Self-powered Mechanical Sunflower that Turns with the Sun" Science Buddies. Science Buddies, 2 Sep. 2014. Web. 24 Oct. 2014 <http://www.sciencebuddies.org/science-fair-projects/project_ideas/ApMech_p045.shtml?from=Blog>

APA Style

Science Buddies Staff. (2014, September 2). Build Your Own Helio Tracker—a Self-powered Mechanical Sunflower that Turns with the Sun. Retrieved October 24, 2014 from http://www.sciencebuddies.org/science-fair-projects/project_ideas/ApMech_p045.shtml?from=Blog

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Last edit date: 2014-09-02

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