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Education and Outreach Programs

Building a Better Battery

Sprint to discovery

How do you think scientists make discoveries? Do they slave away, alone in the lab, year after year, failure after failure, until the big Eureka!” moment? What if the problems that need to be solved by scientists can’t wait years?

Argonne researchers use a unique strategy called a sprint” to develop the next generation of cheaper, more powerful batteries. These new batteries will be essential if electric cars and renewable energy are going to become a widespread reality.


In this learning lab, students will work in teams and use sprints, just like Argonne scientists and engineers, to quickly design and test their own batteries!

2019-2020 Learning Lab Registration

Registration for the 2019-2020 school year is now open!

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For Students
  • Collaboration:  Experience how scientists use this scientific disposition to make complicated problems more manageable.
  • Scientific Argumentation: Resolve competing opinions by examining the data and using scientific reasoning.
  • Failure Leads to Discovery: Learn from your failures and use the knowledge you gain from them to move closer to your goal.
For Teachers
  • Promoting Scientific Discourse: Our facilitators will guide your students through evidence-based debates that are essential to science. This promotes an environment that allows the students to collectively make decisions in a strategic and supportive way.
  • How to Get Involved: As the students test different features of their batteries, guide them through the process of looking for trends or patterns in their data. Also, be sure to reinforce the importance of collecting accurate, reliable data to them.

What the Students Will Be Doing

Your group will be divided into up to three teams. Each team, with the guidance of an Argonne facilitator, will develop a prototype battery that will be used to power a toy car. Near the end of the visit, the teams will come back together to share design approaches and engage in a friendly competition to see whose battery will send the toy car the farthest.

While potentially useful, no prerequisite knowledge of electrochemistry is required. The students will first learn the fundamental components of a battery (metals, membrane, and electrolyte) and how they come together to generate electricity. From there, they will lead the research into how the design of a battery can be optimized in order to meet the voltage and current requirements of the car’s motor.

The students will be using a unique research strategy called a sprint” where small groups of 3-4 students will only have about 15 minutes to investigate a specific aspect of the battery’s design. They collect data, look for trends, and report back to the team. The team reviews the small group’s recommendations and, through scientific argumentation, comes to a consensus about that aspect of the battery’s design. If time allows, this process is repeated so that further refinements can be made.

Getting the Most Out of Your Visit

  • Prepare for the experience by reading the detailed description of your Learning Lab.
  • Make sure you arrive with plenty of time for the full experience.
  • Set learning goals with the students for the visit.
  • Share a scientist’s career profile with the students. 
  • Get involved by becoming an active part of the Learning Lab experience.
  • Look for opportunities to apply some of the methods you see at the Learning Lab to your classroom.