Have you ever climbed into a car in the summer after it's been out in a parking lot for a few hours? The metal pieces burn your skin and the air is hard to breathe because it is so hot! When my husband and I lived in Texas, the summers were very hot. We had a little car that heated up so much on those hot days that we had a dashboard compass melt and a closed soda can expand so that it teetered like a weeble-wobble instead of sitting upright. How was this possible? The heat we have been talking about comes from our sun, and this heat is actually a form of energy called solar energy.

The sun is approximately 93,000,000 miles from the Earth. Even with that great distance between us, the energy that the sun provides keeps the whole planet alive. Amazingly, God made the sun's rays to travel the millions of miles to the Earth in only eight minutes. Eight minutes! And when the sun's rays reach the Earth, they are still powerful enough for us to use as an energy source. Now, there are many ways to provide energy on this planet, but many of them can only be used once. But solar energy is a continual source of energy. People have been using the sun to make energy since 700 B.C., when they would use a piece of glass to intensify the sun's rays to start a fire. Although some sources today use solar energy, people have a lot more to learn about how to use it the most efficiently.

Now, you may have known all of this already, but do you know one way you can harness this solar energy to work for you? One of the easiest ways is by making a solar oven. There are many ways to do this project, but we're going to make a pizza box solar oven because it is one of the easiest to make. My sons and I did this project several years ago, and found it to be a lot of fun—not only because experimenting with science is fun, but because with this experiment you get to eat your results! Grilled cheese sandwiches, s'mores, and cinnamon toast are some of the yummy results that we tested. Now that your mouth is watering, let's gather our supplies.

You will need:
   • 1 pizza box
   • Aluminum foil
   • Black construction paper
   • Clear plastic (a hard plastic like Plexiglas works best)
   • Duct tape
   • Scissors
   • A stick or wooden dowel
   • Non-toxic glue
   • A simple oven thermometer
   • Ruler
   • Pen or pencil
   • Scotch tape

Okay, your first question may be, "Can I use a used pizza box?" Yes, it can be used if it has no food residue inside, but it is better if it is a new box. I know your next question is, "Where do I get a new pizza box?" Well, you can buy one from a restaurant supply store, but the cheapest way is to visit your local pizzeria and simply ask if you can have one. You will probably have to explain that you are building a solar oven as a science experiment. When my boys and I made our oven, we took pictures of the solar oven back to the pizzeria as a special thanks for their help.

After you've got your pizza box, most of the other supplies should be simple to find. If you have trouble finding the hard plastic, you can buy a sheet at your local home improvement store. For our pizza box oven, we used a 14" x 14" piece of thin Plexiglas.

Any time that you are doing a science experiment, it's a good idea to keep good notes of everything. If you are planning to use this solar oven as part of a science fair project, you may want to create some charts to record the temperature outside, the time of day, the date, the temperature inside the solar oven, and your cooking results. If you record your data accurately from the beginning, it is more precise and less time-consuming than if you try to remember all the details later. It is also nice to take pictures while you're doing your experiments. The pictures can be used on a display in any demonstration that you may give on the solar oven. I have found that many people can better understand exactly what was done when they see a couple of pictures. Check out the box below for some specific research ideas you can test with your solar oven.