Models are valuable tools for explaining and testing systems. Small-scale models can be especially useful for educational purposes. For models to be useful, they have to accurately depict the larger system that they are describing. A novel man-made system, known as an agrivoltaic structure, is being constructed at Biosphere 2 near Oracle, Arizona. The word agrivoltaic is a combination of agriculture and photovoltaics, or solar farming. My research involved creating a small-scale version of this system for educational purposes. The model of this system tested two predictions: that plants will grow better in the shade of a panel and that the plants will cool the solar panel through transpiration. These two predictions were tested using low-tech solutions that are affordable for classroom teachers. Predictions were tested using water and scales to measure soil moisture; infrared guns to measure plant and panel temperature; and HOBO air temperature sensors. There was little quantitative data to support the claim that plants grew better in shade than sun; however, the model system is young and may need time to grow. While some observational evidence supported the second prediction, the data was not significant. Both sets of data appeared to be highly dependent on environmental factors, such as sun position. Even without upholding the predictions, this model worked well as an educational tool, allowing students to better understand the value of research and the benefits and limitations of models.


Agricultural Education | Agricultural Science | Environmental Education | Natural Resources and Conservation | Oil, Gas, and Energy | Other Food Science | Sustainability


Greg Barron-Gafford

Lab site

Biosphere 2 (B2)

Funding Acknowledgement

*This project has been made possible with support from the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation (www.marinesanctuary.org) and the California State University STEM Teacher Researcher Program.



URL: https://digitalcommons.calpoly.edu/star/386


To view the content in your browser, please download Adobe Reader or, alternately,
you may Download the file to your hard drive.

NOTE: The latest versions of Adobe Reader do not support viewing PDF files within Firefox on Mac OS and if you are using a modern (Intel) Mac, there is no official plugin for viewing PDF files within the browser window.