Build Your Own Helio Tracker—a Self-powered Mechanical Sunflower that Turns with the Sun *
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.
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.
Jonathon T. Ota.
This science fair project was inspired by the following science fair project, presented at the 2009 California State Science Fair:
- Ota, Jonathan T. (2009). Helio Tracker. http://cssf.usc.edu/History/2009/Projects/S0217.pdf
Cite This PageGeneral citation information is provided here. Be sure to check the formatting, including capitalization, for the method you are using and update your citation, as needed.
Last edit date: 2017-07-28
Recent Feedback Submissions
|Sort by Date||Sort by User Name|
What was the most important thing you learned?
how sun works
What problems did you encounter?
Can you suggest any improvements or ideas?
Science Buddies materials are free for everyone to use, thanks to the support of our sponsors. What would you tell our sponsors about how Science Buddies helped you with your project?
how sun woorks
Overall, how would you rate the quality of this project?
What is your enthusiasm for science after doing your project?
Compared to a typical science class, please tell us how much you learned doing this project.
|Do you agree?||Report Inappropriate Comment|
Ask an ExpertThe Ask an Expert Forum is intended to be a place where students can go to find answers to science questions that they have been unable to find using other resources. If you have specific questions about your science fair project or science fair, our team of volunteer scientists can help. Our Experts won't do the work for you, but they will make suggestions, offer guidance, and help you troubleshoot.
Ask an Expert
If you like this project, you might enjoy exploring these related careers:
Solar Energy Systems Engineer
Does the idea of harvesting the enormous power of the sun interest you? If you find this exciting, then you should think about installing solar photovoltaic panels on your house to collect free electricity from the sun. But how energy efficient is your home already? Can it get better? How many panels would your house need? What would the system look like? You can get the answers to these questions and more from your local solar energy systems engineer. These engineers help their residential and commercial clients save on their electric bills and reduce their carbon footprint by performing energy audits and picking and designing the right solar energy system for them.Read more
Mechanical EngineerMechanical engineers are part of your everyday life, designing the spoon you used to eat your breakfast, your breakfast's packaging, the flip-top cap on your toothpaste tube, the zipper on your jacket, the car, bike, or bus you took to school, the chair you sat in, the door handle you grasped and the hinges it opened on, and the ballpoint pen you used to take your test. Virtually every object that you see around you has passed through the hands of a mechanical engineer. Consequently, their skills are in demand to design millions of different products in almost every type of industry. Read more
Commercial & Industrial DesignerHave you always loved art? Do you have a good eye for beauty, balance, and form? How would you like to see your designs show up in toy stores? Or in a sporting goods store? Or at a car dealer? Commercial and industrial designers create the shape and form of every type of manufactured good that you can think of—from toys, sporting goods, and medical equipment to high technology products, furniture, toothbrushes, and toasters. They design the form of new products that are as beautiful and pleasing to look at as they are functional. Read more
Mechanical Engineering TechnicianYou use mechanical devices every day—to zip and snap your clothing, open doors, refrigerate and cook your food, get clean water, heat your home, play music, surf the Internet, travel around, and even to brush your teeth. Virtually every object that you see around has been mechanically engineered or designed at some point, requiring the skills of mechanical engineering technicians to create drawings of the product, or to build and test models of the product to find the best design. Read more
News Feed on This Topic
Looking for more science fun?
Try one of our science activities for quick, anytime science explorations. The perfect thing to liven up a rainy day, school vacation, or moment of boredom.Find an Activity