Geothermal energy is the transfer of heat from beneath the ground to above ground and from above ground to beneath the ground. Underground, temperatures are more consistent than above ground. Therefore, to save energy costs, some homeowners and businesses use pumps to guide hot air beneath the ground into the home during the colder months and to guide hot air beneath the ground during the hotter months.
Students can create illustrated models that simulate how heat is generated beneath Earth's surface. Radioactive particles slowly decay, generating the heat. Earth's inner core is solid iron; surrounding this iron core is an outer core of magma, which is rock heated to the point of melting. Surrounding the outer core is the mantle, made up of a mixture of rock and magma, with more magma closer to the center of the planet. The land people know well is the crust, the outermost layer. Students can draw all of these layers and create lines that show the movement of heat through the geothermal vents.
Traveling to a Vent
Geothermal vents are found in the form of volcanoes, hot springs and geysers. If the school has a nearby hot spring or geyser, students can take a trip to the landmark and record information from this landmark. The greatest number of geothermal vents is located near the ring of fire, an area that borders the Pacific Ocean. Schools can mostly find geothermal vents in the American West.
Constructing a Geothermal Generator
Students can construct their own geothermal generators. All they need to do is get a pot, fill it with water, place the pot on a stove, put foil over the pot, poke a hole in the center of the aluminum foil, poke a hole in the bottom of a pop can, place the bottom of the pop can over the aluminum foil hole and then hold a pinwheel over the can. By boiling the water in the pot, the steam will rise up and spin the pinwheel. Geothermal heat has the same effect on nearby springs. Students will need to understand how steam turbines work before this activity will make sense.
More advanced students can brainstorm ways in which geothermal energy can be harnessed. Geothermal energy is a relatively recent idea, and scientists and engineers have only come up with a few ways in which this resource can be harnessed. There might be other possibilities yet to be brainstormed. Even if students do not come up with a feasible plan, at least they're critically thinking about the material, which reinforces their understanding.
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