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Total Redox™ Fuel Cells

Stranded HAWC astronauts need students to build a fuel cell and optimize their path to get home.



After being stranded for more than two months at the lunar outpost, two astronauts set out to retrieve badly needed oxygen from a derelict supply depot. During the return trip their rover's power source fails. Your students will help design and construct a makeshift fuel cell to get the stranded HAWC astronauts back to the outpost. Power output from the substitute fuel cell will be severely limited, so the optimum route home must also be found.


  1. Design and optimize a zinc-air fuel cell and test its power output
  2. Use 3D modeling to determine the most efficient path back to the outpost using satellite topology data

Learning Objectives

  1. Measure and model electrical potential, current, power, and energy
  2. Read and write chemical equations
  3. Calculate theoretical cell potential
  4. Develop an understanding of redox reactions
  5. Explain the difference between anions and cations
  6. Describe the efficiency of various power sources (Coal, Gas, Nuclear, Solar, Fuel Cells)
  7. Describe the relationship between electrolysis and electrochemical cells
  8. Explain what the standard conditions for measurement are and how they affect experimental results
  9. Create models for kinetic energy, potential energy, electrical energy, and rolling resistance
  10. Create models for various energy conversion processes
  11. Scale measurement datasets to fit a range of values
  12. Extrapolate classroom experimental results make predictions about models that are orders of magnitude larger

Next Generation Science Standards

  • PS1.A: structure and properties of matter
    • HS-PS1-1. Use the periodic table as a model to predict the relative properties of elements based
    • on the patterns of electrons in the outermost energy level of atoms.
    • MS-PS1-1. Develop models to describe the atomic composition of simple molecules and extended
    • structures.
  • PS1.B: chemical reactions
    • HS-PS1-2. Construct and revise an explanation for the outcome of a simple chemical reaction based on the outermost electron states of atoms, trends in the periodic table, and knowledge of the patterns of chemical properties.
    • HS-PS1-5. Apply scientific principles and evidence to provide an explanation about the effects of changing the temperature or concentration of the reacting particles on the rate at which a reaction occurs.
    • HS-PS1-6. Refine the design of a chemical system by specifying a change in conditions that would produce increased amounts of products at equilibrium.
    • HS-PS1-7. Use mathematical representations to support the claim that atoms, and therefore mass, are conserved during a chemical reaction.
    • MS-PS1-2. Analyze and interpret data on the properties of substances before and after the substances interact to determine if a chemical reaction has occurred.
    • MS-PS1-5. Develop and use a model to describe how the total number of atoms does not change in a chemical reaction and thus mass is conserved.
  • PS2.A: forces and motion
    • HS-PS2-1. Analyze data to support the claim that Newton’s second law of motion describes the mathematical relationship among the net force on a macroscopic object, its mass, and its acceleration.
    • MS-PS2-2. Plan an investigation to provide evidence that the change in an object’s motion depends on the sum of the forces on the object and the mass of the object.
  • PS2.C: stability and instability in physical systems
  • PS3.A: definition of energy
  • PS3.B: conservation of energy and energy transfer
    • HS-PS3-3. Design, build, and refine a device that works within given constraints to convert one form of energy into another form of energy
    • MS-PS3-1. Construct and interpret graphical displays of data to describe the relationships of kinetic energy to the mass of an object and to the speed of an object
    • MS-PS3-5. Construct, use, and present arguments to support the claim that when the motion energy of an object changes, energy is transferred to or from the object.
  • PS3.D: energy in chemical processes and everyday life
  • ESS3.C: human impacts on earth systems
    • HS-ESS3-1. Construct an explanation based on evidence for how the availability of natural resources, occurrence of natural hazards, and changes in climate have influenced human activity.
    • HS-ESS3-2. Evaluate competing design solutions for developing, managing, and utilizing energy and mineral resources based on cost-benefit ratios.
  • ETS1.A: defining and delimiting an engineering problem
    • HS-ETS1-1. Analyze a major global challenge to specify qualitative and quantitative criteria and constraints for solutions that account for societal needs and wants.
    • MS-ETS1-1. Define the criteria and constraints of a design problem with sufficient precision to ensure a successful solution, taking into account relevant scientific principles and potential impacts on people and the natural environment that may limit possible solutions.
  • ETS1.B: developing possible solutions
    • HS-ETS1-2. Design a solution to a complex real-world problem by breaking it down into smaller, more manageable problems that can be solved through engineering.
  • ETS1.C: optimizing the design solution
    • HS-ETS1-4. Use a computer simulation to model the impact of proposed solutions to a complex real-world problem with numerous criteria and constraints on interactions within and between systems relevant to the problem.
    • MS-ETS1-2. Evaluate competing design solutions using a systematic process to determine how well they meet the criteria and constraints of the problem.
    • MS-ETS1-3. Analyze data from tests to determine similarities and differences among several design solutions to identify the best characteristics of each that can be combined into a new solution to better meet the criteria for success.
    • MS-ETS1-4. Develop a model to generate data for iterative testing and modification of a proposed object, tool, or process such that an optimal design can be achieved.

Common Core Mathematics Standards

Note: It is impossible for one kit to fully teach the nuances of each common core standard. However, an introduction to topics within many of these standards are contained within the activity text, procedure, pre-and post-lab questions. This kit makes an excellent introduction to practical applications of the topics covered by the standards.

  • Grade 8
    • The Number System
      • 8.NS.A.2 - Use rational approximations of irrational numbers...estimate the value of expressions.
    • Expressions and Equations
      • Work with radicals and integer exponents
        • 8.EE.A.4 - Perform operations with numbers expressed in scientific notation and decimal notation.
      • Understand the connections between proportional relationships, lines, and linear equations
        • 8.EE.B.6 - Use similar triangles to explain why the slope is the same between any two points on a non vertical line in the coordinate plane.
      • Analyze and solve linear equations
        • 8.EE.C.7 - Solve linear equations in one variable.
    • Functions
      • Define, evaluate, and compare functions
        • 8.F.A.1 Understand that a function is a rule that assigns to each input exactly one output.
        • 8.F.A.2 Compare properties of two functions each represented in a different way.
    • Geometry
      • Understand and apply the pythagorean theorem
        • 8.G.B.8 Apply the Pythagorean Theorem to find the distance between two points in a coordinate system.
  • High School: Number and Quantity
    • Reason quantitatively and use units to solve problems
      • HSN-Q.A.2 - Define appropriate quantities for the purpose of descriptive modeling.
      • HSN-Q.A.3 - Choose a level of accuracy appropriate to limitations of measurement when reporting quantities.
  • High School: Algebra
    • Create equations that describe numbers or relationships
      • HSA-CED.A.1 Create equations and inequalities in one variable and use them to solve problems
      • HSA-CED.A.4 Rearrange formulas to highlight a quantity of interest, using the same reasoning as in solving equations.
    • Understand solving equations as a process and explain the reasoning
      • HSA-REI.A.1 Explain each step in solving a simple equation as following from the equality of numbers asserted at the previous step, starting from the assumption that the original equation has a solution.
  • High School: Functions
    • Interpret functions that arise in terms of the context
      • HSF-IF.B.6 Calculate and interpret the average rate of change of a function (presented symbolically or as a table) over a specified interval. Estimate the rate of change from a graph.
    • Build a function that models a relationship between two quantities
      • HSF-BF.A.1 Write a function that describes a relationship between two quantities.
    • Interpret expressions for functions interms of the situation they model
      • HSF-LE.B.5 Interpret the parameters in a linear or exponential function in terms of a context.
    • Model periodic phenomena with trigonometric functions
      • HSF-TF.A.1 Understand radian measure of an angle as the length of the arc on the unit circle subtended by the angle.
  • High School: Geometry
    • Apply geometric concepts in modeling situations
      • HSG-MG.A.1 Use geometric shapes, their measures, and their properties to describe objects
    • Visualize relationships between two-dimensional and three-dimensional objects
      • HSG-GMD.B.4 Identify the shapes of two-dimensional cross-sections of three-dimensional objects, and identify three-dimensional objects generated by rotations of two-dimensional objects.
Included Materials
  • Anode container (8)
  • Wire coil (16)
  • Activated carbon (8)
  • Zinc anode strip (8)
  • Electrical tape (8)
  • Electrolyte solution bottles (8)
  • Sodium Hydroxide, 30g (1)
  • Alligator clips (16)
Required Materials
  • Multimeters or other data logger equipment (8)
  • Protective eyewear (8)
  • Latex/nitrile gloves (32)
  • 500mL plastic bottle (1)
  • Ice bath (1)
Storage Conditions Cool and Dark (Ambient)
Stability Indefinite

Teacher Manuals

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