An innovative solar project led by a Chemistry academic at the University of Southampton is hoping to help the teaching of sciences in developing countries.

One of the largest challenges in teaching science subjects in developing countries is that the lack of electricity often means that students lose out on hands-on experiment experience. However, Professor Tony Rest, a visiting Chemistry academic at the University of Southampton, and Keith Wilkinson, formerly a teacher at the International School at Lusaka in Zambia, have devised a solar-powered solution based on a digital projector and low-cost solar energy panels that mean that students can gain access to IT and other modern teaching methods.

Professor Rest says: “The lack of electricity is a particularly serious matter for rural schools and this situation is unlikely to get better in the near to medium future. With drawbacks to petrol generators, due to difficulties in getting supplies and safety hazards, solar energy generators have become available at cost-effective prices and provide a sustainable answer as rural schools have an abundance of the basic energy source required to power them – sunshine.”

The solar energy generators, which consist of solar panels, batteries and inverters, can be linked to a low-energy projector for students to get practical classes via multimedia resources to show laboratory experiments and stress practical techniques.

Professor Rest adds: “These experiences can be extended to other science subjects from physics, biology and maths, to subjects involving practical elements, such as engineering, and to craft subjects, including plumbing, carpentry, and catering, where students need to see how to acquire skills. By extending the breadth of subjects benefiting from the use of IT, the overall cost of using a solar energy generator is reduced. Another spin-off is that students in rural schools gain access to valuable IT skills.”

The project has been developed by the ‘Chemistry Aid’ project, the Chemistry Video Consortium based at the University of Southampton, with support from the Royal Society of Chemistry, which has provided multimedia teaching resources.

The project is the latest in a long list of UK-based universities researching and developing solar photovoltaic technology in order to help developing countries engage in affordable, renewable energy generation.