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Sarasota Thursday, Apr. 29, 2010 7 years ago

St. Martha's students cook up creative inventions

by: Loren Mayo Black Tie Editor

The sixth-graders at St. Martha Catholic School have burned their fingers countless times over the past few weeks, trying to get bacon and shrimp to sizzle on solar-powered ovens made of cardboard boxes, tinfoil and mirrors.

Andrea Hempill, a teacher at St. Martha’s, has led her class through a solar-oven project exhibition in honor of Earth Day. Her top-three teams will compete Saturday, May 1, at the Energy Whiz Olympics, in Cocoa Beach.

“This is a fabulous learning opportunity for these kids and very much the scientific method in action,” Hempill said. “Solar ovens don’t use any fossil fuel and are a totally clean, renewable resource.”

Students, who were allowed to choose their teammates, will be required to cook an appetizer, entrée and dessert on their solar oven before a panel of judges.

Team “Cool Coocerz,” comprised of Nate Bauer, Bradley Atwood and Matthew Garcia, used a box and painted it black to absorb heat. The students have reached temperatures up to 170 degrees while cooking burgers, which took nearly one hour.

“The burgers taste better on the solar oven,” Atwood said. “They have more flavor because of the lower temperature. I think we have a good chance of going to the competition — we’re going to cut the burger up and put it in taco shells, and serve shrimp wrapped in bacon.”

A team of girls, Lauren Welford, Elizabeth Velez, Elizabeth Astuto and Shannon Powers, who call their oven the “Solinator 3000” said they researched the best solar cookers for ideas, using black duct tape to absorb the sun and several angled mirrors that reflect off one another and directly onto the food.

“Velcro on the sides helps us adjust the front flap of the oven to reflect the sun,” said Elizabeth Velez. “The bent flaps allow for storage, and the tinfoil also reflects.”

The girls have practiced melting chocolate for fondue, and if they get the chance to attend the cook-off, they are planning to cook sun-dried tomatoes and mini hotdogs.

The biggest solar oven of the class was designed by five students who built their project using an umbrella, tinfoil, spray paint and a reflective wrap that absorbs heat.

The team said that during the initial design process, they didn’t take into consideration the size of the umbrella — it has proven difficult to fit the project through narrow doorways during travel. Although the team got the temperature up to 170 degrees — a perfect temperature for cooking shrimp — the biscuits didn’t turn out as well.

“We thought that with a box, it could only get one angle, and this reflects several,” said team members Andrea Borone. “I really like working in groups because teamwork is faster. You have more ideas with more people.”

Contact Loren Mayo at [email protected].

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