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Tracking the Sun

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 Sunflower facing sun; public domain photo
A new science fair project idea on the Science Buddies website caught my eye today because the apparatus shown in the photograph looks like a most amazing piece of sculptural scrap art.

In fact, the "Helio Tracker" shown in the Build Your Own Helio Tracker--a Self-powered Mechanical Sunflower that Turns with the Sun abbreviated project idea demonstrates an ingenious and forward-thinking approach to the challenges of going green.

The principles of phototropism tell us that many plants will grow in the direction of their source of sunlight. There are plants, however, like sunflowers, that shift throughout the day in response to the progression of the sun from East to West. These plants are heliotropic. In essence, they "follow" the sun.

Solar panels that can mimic this behavior and reorient themselves throughout the day offer improved efficiency. High-tech solutions exist, but as the science fair project on which this idea is based demonstrates, there is something to learn from a sunflower.

For other projects ideas that involve "building" a solution, browse our Mechanical Engineering Interest Area, sponsored by Seagate.


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