News Column

Harnessing the power of the sun

August 16, 2014

By Sara Jane Pohlman, Lodi News-Sentinel, Calif.

Aug. 16--The staff of the World of Wonders Science Museum picked a perfect day to host their second annual celebration of solar technology. There wasn't a single cloud in the bright blue Central Valley sky to block the sun's rays from powering fountains, cars and hot dog cookers.

Solar Day was held on the roof of the parking garage in Downtown Lodi, two stories above the children's science museum. The event is the brainchild of Jim Peyers, a longtime museum volunteer who crafts many of the exhibits.

"This is just another alternative to get (children's) minds going," Peyers said while tending a small iron skillet of popcorn cooking under a massive solar magnifier. "It could be their future. And hey, it's science. That's the whole point."

Two child-size swimming pools were equipped with solar fountains that turned off and on when a child covered and uncovered the corresponding solar panel. Children transformed pizza boxes into miniature solar ovens to toast nachos. A volunteer gave visitors rides in his solar-powerd golf cart, while children got behind the wheel in a miniature solar-powered car.

Katie Drohan waited patiently in line with friend Zoe Bertsch, both of Lodi, for her turn. The seven-year-old girls were able to easily explain the mechanics of how the sun powered the car.

"I have a license but I left it at home," said Drohan, skipping to the car to take it for a spin.

During Bertsch's turn, she handed a small wood block to her dad John Bertsch for safekeeping. It was a square she burned her name into using a magnifying glass and safety goggles, and he marveled at it.

"Isn't this a great thing for a kid to have? Now she wants to go home and get a magnifying glass to try different projects," he said.

In one corner of the event, Peyers' son Matt Peyers was boiling hot dogs in a solar cooker the two built together. They used a satellite dish found in a barn and covered it in sheets of mylar to reflect the sun's rays into a narrow point. A small black pot hung from a crossbeam right at that point, and the water was bubbling away.

"Throughout the day, we've been having to rotate it to follow the sun. This morning it was facing over there," Matt Peyers said, pointing east.

There were also vendors selling solar panels for home use and a volunteer from the American Cancer Society teaching about proper skincare and safety.

The Stockton Astronomical Society had two high-end telescopes specially equipped to view the sun. One had a special filter blocking out 99.999 percent of light from the sun, reducing the rays to a level safe for the eyes. Viewers could see dark sunspots on a pale round orb, which Doug Christensen said were each the size of Earth. The society also had a hydrogen alpha scope, which only allows one frequency of light out of the whole wavelength show through. Small ropes of energy burst off the edge of the red circle in the viewfinder.

"Everyone has heard of a solar flare, but now you can see it," Omar Anzaldua said.

Both volunteers were quick to inform visitors that looking directly at the sun without this kind of special equipment will severely damage the eyes and cause permanent injury.

Peyers was pleased at the turnout, and happy that the museum allowed him to host the solar event for the second time.

"I'm glad they take me on, so I can keep encouraging imagination and motivation for kids," said Preyer.

Contact Sara Jane Pohlman at


(c)2014 the Lodi News-Sentinel (Lodi, Calif.)

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Source: Lodi News-Sentinel (CA)

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