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On Small Hall: Citizen-scientists research sustainability

    SCORS  Physics students investigate use of solar cells.  Courtesy of SCORS.
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A surprise awaited the Solar Cells On the Roof of Small (SCORS) team on the roof of Small Hall recently. Members went up to check on their solar-energy project. They were greeted with bird poop, right on their solar cell.

The physics students hardly were stumped. Possible solutions joked about included investing in a cover or a scarecrow. The most important need, however, was to determine how such a problem would affect the performance of the cell.

During the spring 2009 semester, SCORS, a part of the William and Mary Society of Physics Students, has been designing and constructing a solar-cell testing station with funds from the College’s Committee on Sustainability. The project is attempting to measure the electrical performance of various solar-cell technologies with a goal of making recommendations toward energy-efficiency options as Small Hall comes up for renovations in the near future.

Seth Aubin, assistant professor of physics and one of three faculty advisors to the group, said, “I was really impressed by the dedication and organization of the students on this project. They were able to take their physics skills out of the classrooms and contribute to the long-term sustainability of the campus, as citizen-scientists.”

In addition to considering environmental factors such as birds, the team is evaluating the angular dependence relative to the sun of cells, researching the campus weather patterns over time and performing other tests in order to make reliable recommendations.

Recently SCORS invited a William and Mary News video team to join it on the roof of Small Hall. There, team members presented a rundown of what they are up to.