In much of the developing world, grid-based electricity is scarce and unaffordable. A small solar cell can greatly improve the quality of life by replacing candles with LEDs and allowing people to charge their own mobile phones instead of paying for them to be charged. But at a cost of roughly $1 per watt, even a 100 W solar cell is a very large purchase.
If the solar cell tracks the sun, its energy output increases by 30-40%, so a smaller cell can suffice. But the tracking needs to be both inexpensive and robust. We have developed a gravity-based tracking system, where water dripping from a bag over the course of the day changes the balance of the solar cell, allowing it to rotate to track the sun.
This cell performed well when tested at the university, but it still needs to be tested in situations more closely resembling the real world. This testing will require a robust and inexpensive monitoring system to determine how it performs compared to a standard solar cell installation. The student working on this project will examine the specifications of commercially available products and also consider assembling a system from components such as Arduinos. The student will put assemble the system and test it under a variety of conditions.
The student should be a physics or astronomy-physics major and ideally will have completed Physics 336, Electronics and Instrumentation.