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Milton Hershey School Students Learn Sustainability Lessons in Physics by Dehydrating Food

At Milton Hershey School, our educational thought leaders are collaborating across specialties to provide MHS students with real-world applications within the fields they are studying.

In a high school physics classroom, Christopher Pope, MHS Science Teacher, and Dr. Jason Smith, MHS Horticultural Instructional Advisor, are partnering to solve food preservation problems in rural and low-technology economies.

Designed with the Next Generation Science Standards in mind, students discover solutions to authentic problems throughout the world.

“The idea stemmed from focusing on the problem of food preservation and recognizing its connection to physics because preserving food is basically an energy problem,” Dr. Smith said.

MHS physics students address the question, “How can you preserve food before it spoils without electricity or cooking fuel?” They then design solar-powered food dehydrators that transform and channel solar energy by removing moisture from produce.

Milton Hershey School students design solar-powered dehydrators in physics class

MHS students design a solar-powered dehydrator in three phases starting from left to right.

“The physics concepts involved are the movement of energy through a system and the use of energy to perform a task,” Pope said. “I think the main takeaway of this project is the design thinking process and how students can make improvements as they grow their knowledge.”

The dehydrators are made from simple supplies found around the home such as clear plastic sheets, black plastic bags, foil, cardboard, and wooden stakes. Students test their designs overnight in three rounds at the MHS Horticultural Center’s greenhouse. With each test, students are expected to improve on their design using the data they collect and energy concepts they are learning in the classroom.

“This project pushes our students to apply energy models to a real-world problem and bring their ideas to life in three-dimensions,” Dr. Smith said.

Dr. Smith and Pope are excited to evolve this project in the coming months to help students better design dehydrators and focus on data-driven change.

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