UCI?s C-MEMS Group Simplifies Science for Students

By Anna Lynn Spitzer

CMEMS group and students
Galobardes and a student helper work on
transforming limes into batteries.

07.07.05 – What happens when you combine seven limes, a handful of pennies, a few galvanized screws and 40 school-age children?

You get homemade batteries and a roomful of eager wannabe scientists.

The Carbon MEMS (Micro-Electro-Mechanical Systems) group, which works in the UCI Calit2 Building with Professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Marc Madou, recently visited the campus’s Extended Day Care program to share some basic scientific principles with the kids.

The group is developing micro-batteries for small portable applications like pacemakers, hearing aids, lick-and-stick sensors and RF tags, and is funded by a National Science Foundation grant. Because the NSF encourages educational activity in tandem with research activity, the group packed up some common household materials – paper towels, gloves, glass containers, small light bulbs and colored wires, in addition to the limes, coins and screws – and created a demonstration they hoped would pique the interest of the 5-to-12-year-olds at the day care center.

CMEMS and students
students learn about science
Students watch raptly as the experiment progresses.

Wearing matching Calit2 t-shirts, the researchers/teachers poured water from one beaker held on high to another below to demonstrate potential energy. They showed electrons racing through wires and then resting inside a capacitor to explain resistance and capacitance.

They saved the best for last.

Student volunteers helped them cut slits into the limes, insert the pennies and screws, and wire the apparatus to an LED light. When the red light flashed, powered by the homemade batteries, the kids’ “ooohs” and “aaahs” signified the success of the experiment.

“For the C-MEMS team, it was a very fulfilling activity,” said mechanical and aeronautical engineering graduate student Francesc Galobardes Jornet. “It was exciting to explain things that we do in our research every day, even though we had to explain in very basic terms. The children had a good time playing and learning, and they understood what we were teaching them.

“They kept asking questions and at the same time, they were able to answer various ‘difficult’ ones designed to increase their curiosity in batteries. Some of them showed an amazing background in scientific terminology.”

In addition to Madou and Galobardes, other C-MEMS participants were Chunlei Wang, postdoctoral research associate; and graduate students Rabih Zaouk, Kartikeya Malladi and Genis Turon Teixidor.

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