Students Staff

26 February 2010

Solar ovens make sunnier horizons

A group of children from two Colchester schools were recently set the challenge of making a solar-powered oven to heat water as part of the national ‘Aimhigher’ project to encourage youngsters to widen their academic horizons.

The children – aged 12 and 13, in year eight – were set the task by engineering expert Dr John Woods and his team from the University of Essex’s department of computer science and electronic engineering.

The ovens were made by the children from scrap material, such as cardboard, aluminium foil, and a front cover made from cling film to help keep the heat in. The winning team was the one that raised 500ml of water to the highest temperature within a 10-minute test period, simulating the heat from sunshine by peddling a converted exercise bike to power a set of halogen bulbs, which then heated the oven.

Dr Woods said: “Solar powered ovens are in widespread use across the developing world and have the potential to rival conventional cookers in many areas. They’re a great example of how clever engineering can harness natural resources to convert energy and improve standards of living.”

Lauren Edwards, from Thomas Lord Audley School said: “It’s been good working as a team, and putting our ideas together. I like science; it’s exciting, especially when you get to do lots of experiments like this.” Daniel Pledger added: “It’s been interesting, and it’s amazing that the experiment works. I really like the University. I didn’t know what to expect – it’s like a town.”

The visitors were given a guided tour of the University by resident students as part of their day and attended a lecture on renewable energy. This competition was the first of two sessions – the next will be on Friday 26 February at the University when children from St Helena School, The Gilberd School and Sir Charles Lucas Arts College will be in the Solar Oven Challenge hot seat.


Notes to editors

For further information please contact the Communications Office tel: 01206 872400. A photo of children taking part in the challenge on February is attached for your use but also feel free to send your own reporter/photographer to the event on February 26 if you prefer.

Schools taking part in the challenge

Friday 12th February – Thomas Lord Audley and Alderman Blaxill
Friday 26th February – St Helena, The Gilberd, Sir Charles Lucas Arts College

About Aimhigher

The initiative began in August 2004 and is funded until July 2011 by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) and the Department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS). It works with schools and colleges to encourage young people to progress onto higher education, raise the aspirations and develop the abilities of young people who might not normally consider higher education, widen the horizons of young people and create a greater skills base in the workplace and strengthen progression into higher education via vocational courses such as the new Diplomas and Apprenticeships. For further information visit

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