5 Ways to Explore Science with the Summer Sun

Hands-On Sun Science

Summer gives sunshine – so use it for science! Utilizing summer sun can mean making the most of the long days, but the endless rays offered this time of year lend themselves to sunshine-based science projects. Whether studying they physical characteristics of the sun, like it’s core, solar flares or sunspots, orthe relationship between light and heat, examining evaporation, or exploring UV radiation, sun-based science is best when conducted during the sun’s brightest, warmest, and strongest time of year!


Take your new found appreciation for our sun and conduct experiments at home that lead towards learning about science through the lens of the summer sun: 


Another activity that allows young scientists to experiment with the power of the sun’s rays is the creation of construction paper sun prints. Often created using special photosensitive paper, sun prints can be done easily at home using dyed paper and other interesting objects. When left in the sun, construction paper will fade – so when objects are layered on top of the paper, the paper is protected, leaving behind an un-faded spot in the shape of whatever object was used. By using materials that let varying degrees of light travel through them, participants can explore the qualities of transparency, translucency, and opacity while creating their artistic masterpieces.

Here are some other ideas that use cloth rather than paper:


With the heat of the sun comes constant application of sunscreen and, of course, we’re all hoping to use the most effective sunscreen possible. While choices can be made based on SPF, brand, and/or ingredients, experimenting to see what sunscreens work best can support healthy decision-making and teaches young scientists about the powers (and dangers) of UV radiation. The simplest way to test sunscreen involves applying it to construction paper and waiting for the sun to fade the paper. A more tech-y sunscreen test uses a UV monitor to track the amount of UV radiation that makes its way through the barrier provided by various sunscreens. Either method of testing sunscreen illuminates the reasons for its use!


To keep time using the sun, we sometimes check the sky to see its position – but this method isn’t very accurate. Shadows, on the other hand, can give a more accurate reading of the time, but only if the right tools are used!

Families can create their own sundials using simple materials found around the house, allowing shadows to become their new clock. Begun at noon on a sunny day, this project requires monitoring on the hour, every hour during the daylight portion of a 24-hour-period, but results in a nature-based time-telling device that can spark explorations of geometry, the structure of time, and ancient history in addition to the scientific understandings of the earth’s relationship with the sun that the project is built upon.


After all of this time in the sun, scientists are bound to get thirsty eventually. There’s no need to find a faucet, though, as the sun can be used to distill water! A simple solar still can be created at home to utilize evaporation in order to clean water. With simple weights and the heat of the sun, salt water can be scientifically transformed into deliciously drinkable fresh water, though the process is slow. Obtaining an entire glass of water, or even enough water to have a good drink, can take a whole day or more, but the science behind the process is fascinating and water purification is a useful skill to have.

And as for the hunger resulting from a long day of science in the sun? Build a solar oven to cook some sustenance! Using aluminum foil and black paper for reflection and absorption of the sun’s rays and plastic wrap to trap the resulting heat, solar ovens offer a fantastically low-tech method of cooking (or simply warming) foods, and can spark explorations of reflection, refraction, and absorption of light.


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