Empowering the Next Generation of Battery Scientists

In August, JCESR hosted students at Argonne National Laboratory for a second annual educational outreach event. The full-day event, entitled “Building a Better Battery,” was an opportunity for the students to see what challenges world-class scientists are working on, learn about careers in science, and participate in building real batteries that power remote control cars.

With 80 students and seven teachers from three extracurricular STEM organizations connected to 23 different area schools, the event was a major success.

At the event, teams of students used chemistry, physics, and electrical engineering to build a battery out of everyday household materials. The goal was for the battery to store enough energy to power a remote control car. The team with the strongest battery would win the challenge.

Kora, a sophomore at Joliet Central High School loved the hands-on work. She noted, “I enjoyed learning how all the different things – Coke, Gatorade, coffee, vinegar – could power a battery.”

A science teacher at Joliet Central High School, Eric Jern, was thrilled with how the event went. “How do you go about getting 80 kids excited about battery science and energy?” he said. “Kudos to JCESR for organizing an event that did that. It was an event the students will remember for a long time.”

At the event, students were randomly placed on teams made up of individuals from multiple schools. Teams were then asked to use JCESR’s “Sprint” approach to solve their challenge. Using the Sprint approach, JCESR takes a single question or scientific challenge and dedicates a small, multidisciplinary team of 5-15 members to answer it in a predetermined timeframe.

“Our hope was that these students could solve scientific challenges using Sprints in the same way JCESR scientists and engineers do. And they did,” said George Crabtree, Director of JCESR.

Throughout the day, several of JCESR’s industry-leading researchers contributed to the event. Students were able to ask for tips on building their batteries, advice on how to start a career in science, and insight on how the world will be affected by advances in energy storage research. It was a unique opportunity for budding students of science and engineering to connect with today’s top talents in battery research.

“With a mission to develop next-generation batteries, I think it’s fitting and I’m proud to see JCESR staff taking time out to help develop the next generation of battery scientists,” said George Crabtree.

When asked how she felt about the collaborative environment created during the event, Sofia, a Joliet Central Junior said, “I really enjoyed how everyone worked together to build a better battery. This event gave me an opportunity to learn how to communicate and work on my time management skills.”

Among the STEM programs that participated in the event were Project SYNCERE, a not-for-profit organization launched in 2009 that works directly with school districts and community organizations to provide STEM programming to youth in underserved communities. Also present was Project Infinite Green, a similar program that has been working with area youth by providing educational programs since 2011. Joliet Township High Schools also attended event, bringing several bright pre-engineering students from each high school in the district.

And how well did the Sprint teams do? At the end of the day, when the winning team, Ampere, proudly placed the battery they built in the remote control car, it leapt and raced across the stage, resulting in loud cheering from the entire group.

“The idea of incorporating the Sprint model into a learning environment is new. The challenge put before these students was not an easy one, but they took it on energetically and had a lot of fun,” said Meridith Bruozas, Manager of the educational program team that organized the event. “Providing students with opportunities to explore science the way we do at JCESR and Argonne is our goal. It is exciting to see the next generation embrace the challenge and debate their design approach collaboratively, just like our own JCESR scientists and engineers do.”

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