Materials World Modules

An Inquiry & Design-Based Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Education Program

Mini Dye-Sensitized Solar Cells Module

Investigating the Photosynthesis of Plant Disks
Making a Dye-Sensitized Solar Cell

Design Project
Maximizing Solar Energy Absorption in DSSC

Through the following key select activities, students will learn to fabricate an artificial photosynthetic device using nanotechnology and plant pigments to capture sun's energy and convert it to electricity. Each Activity prepares students for the Design Project, in which they are challenged to create the most efficient dye-sensitized solar cell, using vegetable and/or fruit dyes, that is capable of powering an electronic device.

MWM will give students an opportunity to understand the world around them in a way they have never experienced before. The modules promote an awareness of the roles science and technology play in society and guide students to take increased control of their work.

Module At-a-Glance

Module At-a-Glance

Activity 1: Investigating the Photosynthesis of Plant Disks
Students study how various wavelengths of light affect the rate of photosynthesis in a plant leaf. They measure the rise in plant leaf disks immersed in bicarbonate solution as direct evidence of the light-dependent reactions accompanied by the evolution of oxygen gas.

Activity 4: Making a Dye-Sensitized Solar Cell (DSSC)
Students use nanoparticles and vegetable or fruit pigments to fabricate artificial photosynthetic solar cells for capturing light energy and convert it to electricity. They also measure and compare the output current and voltage characteristics of their dye-sensitized solar cells made with two different dyes.

(Recommended Homework Pre-Design Activity: Interactive Solar Cell Design Game)

As a review of DSSC working concepts and precursor to the design project, students use the interactive learning game to make practical design decisions regarding cost, types of dye and their absorption spectra, thickness of coating, in order to create the best possible solar cell within a limited funding budget.

Design Project: Maximizing Solar Energy Absorption in DSSC
Students are challenged to construct a set of prototype DSSCs that maximizes absorption of light energy. To meet specific performance criteria, students make a number of choices regarding the design of their prototypes. Students test and evaluate their prototypes and then redesign the prototypes to make them more effective. Finally, students team up to put their best DSSCs together to demonstrate their capability to power an electronic device.

Connecting to Your Curriculum

Connecting to Your Curriculum

Materials World Modules are simple to organize and inexpensive to run. They are designed to be easily incorporated into any middle school science or high school science lab or lecture course. The chart below lists the subjects covered in the Activities and Design Projects sections of this module.


  • Structure and Properties of Matter
  • Biochemical Reactions
  • Oxidation and Reduction
  • Natural and Synthetic Dye Molecules
  • Intermolecular Forces & Chemical
  • Bonding
  • Energy Bands/Levels
  • Polarity
  • Separation of Mixtures
  • Electrochemical Cells

Geology and Earth Science

  • Metals & Minerals
  • Use of Natural Resources
  • Renewable Energy
  • Environmental Pollution Issues

Physics & Physical Science

  • Properties of Matter
  • Potential Energy, Kinetic Energy &
  • Electromagnetic Spectrum & Aborption
  • Light Energy, Heat Energy & Energy
  • Charged Particles, Electricity
  • Circuits, Current, Voltage, & Electric


  • Measuring
  • Graphing
    • Making and Reading Graphs
    • Interpreting Graphs
  • Computing
    • Averages
    • Rates

Biology and Life Science

  • Photosynthesis
  • Food Chain/Web
  • Absorption and diffusion
  • Cellul Sctructure
  • Cell Respiration and Function

Environmental Science

  • Global Warming
  • Alternative Energy
  • Fossil Fuels
  • Cellul Sctructure
  • Energy Flow in the Ecosystem

Engineering Education

  • Designing
  • Building Prototypes
  • Communications
  • Optimization



Zinc Oxide Nanowires for Organic Bulk Heterojunction Photovoltaic Cells (pop-up window)
A Research poster by Departments of Materials Science and Engineeirng, Department of Chemistry at Norhtwestern University. Organic solar cells have the same theoretical maximum efficiency as pn-junction solar cells but their production requires less energy than traditional pn-junction cells...

@ Materials World Modules