Skip Navigation

Oak Ridge Science Academy activities

Read about some of the activities that students performed during a previous Science Academy. The theme was presented to students as the following challenge scenario:

Scenario: It is 2010. A major oil well explosion in the Gulf of Mexico has caused more than 180 million gallons of crude oil to be spilled into the Gulf. The extensive damage to wildlife and ecosystems is just beginning to be understood and will take years, if not decades, for recovery. This event has underscored the critical need to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and expand our use of alternative (green) energy. You have been selected by the President of the United States to research and make recommendations on America’s future use of biofuels, solar, and wind energy resources.

Students were divided into three research groups: solar energy, wind energy and biofuels energy. Each group was composed of two research teams, which researched their particular topic, built models, collected and analyzed data, conducted competitions, learned to collaborate, and wrote and presented their results at final presentations at the conclusion of the camp. The program combined technology, data collection and analysis, hands-on experimentation, research field trips, guest speakers, scientific notebooks, Web Quests, tours, and cultural activities.

Solar Energy

The solar group learned the differences between parallel and series circuits and used the knowledge to design and build mini solar machines. The group learned about stationary and tracking solar arrays, large and small, with a tour of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s Solar Array. The group also toured a model Net-Zero Energy Home to learn about personal and residential energy conservation.

Wind Energy

The wind group designed and built wind turbines, analyzed the power production, and tested their designs at the NOAA Wind Tunnel. To assist students in understanding the dynamics and size of wind turbines, the Wind Group visited the Buffalo Mountain Wind Farm. They were also outfitted in safety gear used to secure maintenance personnel when repairing 230-foot-high turbines.

Biofuels Energy

The biofuels group spent the majority of their time in the Oak Ridge High School chemistry lab. The group made biofuels from four different plant-based oils. The group then measured and compared the energy output of each biofuel. Biofuels were made through a chemical process called transesterfication whereby the glycerin is separated from the fat or vegetable oil. Students also conducted experiments with oil-eating bacteria to determine the optimum conditions for eliminating various oils (bioremediation). The group toured the National Transportation Research Center to understand ongoing research to improve fuel efficiency and emission control.

Academy curriculum

The Academy curriculum is developed by area Master Teachers utilizing national and state science standards, area scientific expertise, and best practices in education. The Master Teachers also arrange tours, speakers and competitions, and assume primary teaching responsibilities for content delivery, hands-on experimentation, data collection, data analysis and final presentations. Three resident teachers typically assist with the curriculum presentation and daily student explorations and research.

In addition to the science activities, each day will include group sessions where students wiil be given the opportunity to apply what they have learned from the day’s events. This builds a better understanding of the day’s science activities and allows students to apply their knowledge in a hands on approach to science.

The week culminates with final presentations where each group presented their work and findings to an audience of ORAU dignitaries, parents and friends.