Science projects that involve electronics offer exciting and interesting ways to learn about electricity. These types of hands-on projects allow students to learn about one of the greatest forces powering the modern world. Electricity-focused science experiments are either simple or complex, depending on the scale of the model or other objects being built and the types of materials needed.
Elementary school students can add electrical components to modeling clay sculptures using simple techniques and electricity-conducting clay available online or at hobby stores. For middle and high school students, more complex projects may be appropriate, such as building their own simple motor or recording how long it takes for diodes to stop working when exposed to high heat.
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Students of all ages can learn about electricity in a hands-on way by completing an electricity-focused science project. Elementary school students can add motion and lights to modeling clay sculptures, middle school students can build their own simple motors and high school students can measure how long it takes diodes to stop working when they are raised to high temperatures.
Elementary School Students -- Electric Modeling Clay Project
The idea of adding movement or lights to modeling clay sculptures is likely to excite elementary school students. This project offers students an interesting way to gain a basic understanding of simple, parallel and series electrical circuits, as well creating a project they enjoy presenting to their peers. For this project, students can purchase an electric modeling clay kit, available online or from a hobby store. Such kits usually include batteries, a battery pack, LED lights, buzzers, one small motor and recipes for making both conductive and insulating modeling clay from ingredients in the kitchen. (See Resources)
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Start the project by following the recipe to make the two different versions of clay. Insert the batteries into the battery pack, which allows for the creation of a circuit using both kinds of clay. Make two lumps of conductive clay and one lump of insulating clay. Stick the three clay lumps together with the insulating clay in the middle. Stick each metal rod attached to the individual wires from the battery pack -- one red and one black -- into each of the conducting clay lumps, then choose an LED light from the kit.
The light should have two wires sticking out from its base, called leads. Stick the longer lead, the positive or red lead, into the lump of conducting clay that already has a red lead in it from the battery. Insert the shorter lead from the light into the lump of modeling clay with the black wire from the battery. The LED will not light up if you pair the leads with the wrong wires. Switch on the battery pack to turn on the LED light.
You can now experiment with the motor, buzzers and other equipment from the kit. Try molding the clay into different shapes, or adding movement along with lights. Make note of the effects that different clay shapes make on the success of circuits. Present your findings, along with at least one successful electric clay model, as a science project.
Middle Grade Students -- Electric Motor Generator Project
With just a few simple materials, middle school students, who already have a grasp of the basic rules of electricity, can build their own functional motor generator. Students can observe how small changes affect the motor's rotation, and experiment to see how fast they can make the motor run.
For this project, students will need a simple motor kit, such as those available online or from a model or hobby store. These kits usually include magnet wire, paper clips, neodymium magnets, a compass and sandpaper, as well as mounting hardware. In addition to these supplies, students will also need scissors, a small dowel (such as the cap from a marker), a ruler, a 2-by-3-inch piece of cardboard, electrical tape and a C battery.
Using the above materials, students coil the wire around the small dowel to create an electromagnet, with axles (lengths of straight, uncoiled wire) on each side. The wire's electricity insulating coating must be removed from the ends of the axles. Make the axle supports from the paper clips, and tape them to the battery. Stack three neodymium magnets on the battery, and balance the electromagnet atop the supports, causing the electromagnet to spin.
After building the motor, students can experiment by adding or removing magnets, and by seeing how their compass reacts to different changes made to the motor. Students should present their findings, as well as the finished motor itself, as a science project. Videos of the different motor configurations make a good addition to the finished project.
High School Students -- Overheating Diodes Project
This project requires the participant to have experience with electronics. It also requires specialized equipment from electronics stores and some basic safety precautions, which means this project works best for students in high school.
This project focuses on electronics and heat. When building an electronic circuit with a soldering iron, leads get very hot. The objective of this project is to determine how long it takes for a semiconductor device to overheat. To determine this, students need 10 1N4001 diodes, a 9-volt battery and battery clips, a digital multimeter, 10 1 MΩ resistors, several short lengths of wire, a soldering iron, a lead-free solder, a small vise, wire ties, an oven-safe thermometer, a stopwatch and a kitchen oven.
Calibrate the diodes by first connecting them to a low-current battery power source and then setting them in the oven at a low temperature -- up to 170 degrees -- until they all have the same temperature. Plug in the soldering iron to heat it up and after it reaches temperature, touch it to one of the diodes for one second, then note any changes in the voltage reading with the multimeter.
Repeat this process for each diode. In the next step, change the length of time the soldering gun touches the diode, and measure the results with the multimeter. Note how long it takes before each diode reaches a temperature where it no longer gives a voltage reading. Make note of your findings, and present them as a science project, along with visual aids.