Concentrating Sunlight: It’s Easy!

Marty Sagendorfby: Martin Sagendorf

On a Bright Day:

A great deal of energy falls on the Earth’s surface – roughly 1 kW per square meter.  This is about 0.6 Watt per square inch.  This doesn’t sound like much energy, but suppose we collect and concentrate 63 square inches of this sunlight?  These 63 square inches would collect about 38 Watts of energy.  This doesn’t sound like much, but…

Suppose We Could Then:

Concentrate these 38 Watts into an area of only 1/8 of a square inch?  This is exactly what we can do with an inexpensive plastic Fresnel lens.  We’ll focus the sunlight into an area 3/8” in diameter – this is the equivalent of 300 Watts per square inch!  With this energy level, we can easily ignite a piece of wood, boil some water, and even melt a penny.

A Suitable Device:

Is described in the book, Physics Demonstration Apparatus and in the blog The Sun’s Energy.

Now we’re going to describe how to build a much simpler version that works just as well – one that uses a very inexpensive Fresnel lens and is very easy to construct. Read the rest of this entry »

Atomic Penny Vaporizer

Marty Sagendorfby: Martin Sagendorf

Imagine students’ amazement when they actually see sunlight melt a penny with the Atomic Penny Vaporizer!  This demonstration clearly illustrates the vast amount of energy illuminating the Earth’s surface.  In rough numbers: 70% of the Sun’s incident energy on our outer atmosphere is reflected back into space – only about 30% actually gets to the Earth’s surface.  But, as we experience, this is still a substantial quantity of energy.

Fortunately, this energy (I. R. – Visible – U. V.) is rather uniformly distributed over the Earth’s surface –  thus its overall intensity is such that we have a habitable environment.  However, as we all know, we can concentrate some ‘area’ of this energy to increase the ‘energy per area’ (a measure of this is the temperature of the area of concentrated energy).  A common magnifying lens (2-4 in. diameter) will concentrate sufficient energy to burn paper or other objects with a low flash point. Read the rest of this entry »