Argonne National Laboratory

Building a Better Battery
“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.” – Helen Keller


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 needed to be solved by scientists can't wait years? How do they accelerate discovery? Argonne researchers use a unique strategy called a "sprint" to develop the next generation of cheaper, more powerful batteries. These new batteries are 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!


  • For Students
    • Collaboration:  Experience how scientists use this scientific disposition to make complicated problems more manageable.
    • Scientific Argumentation: Resolve competing opinions by examinging 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 reinforce the importance of collecting accurate, reliable data.

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.



Featured NGSS Science and Engineering Practices


  • Engaging in Argument from Evidence

  • Analyzing and Interpreting Data

NGSS Alignment