Introduction: Sparklab - Create a Solar Powered Invention

About: Spark!Lab is a hands -on invention studio in the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History. Spark!Lab activities communicate that invention is a process, rather than a single “Aha!” moment; provide vi…

Welcome to Spark!Lab digital. This is an online invention space where you get to be the inventor. There are no wrong answers, and you can create an invention using the pieces provided — or create some pieces of your own. Think like an inventor: how does your design solve a problem?

Create a Solar Powered Invention. Using Tinkercad, you can delete, reshape, and duplicate elements - and you can create new parts, too.


  • Free Tinkercad account
  • Inventive creativity
  • "Create a Solar Powered Invention" parts from the Tinkercad website

Doha Create a Solar Powered Invention

Step 1: Invention Is a Process

There are just two things to keep in mind as you create a solar powered invention.

1. The invention process is not always linear, but inventors engage in these steps in some form or another:

  • Think it: Have a great idea for an invention
  • Explore it: Investigate inventions and ideas of the past
  • Sketch it: Draw pictures and diagrams to figure out how your invention might work
  • Create it: Build a prototype or model of your idea
  • Try it: Test your invention
  • Tweak it: Keep improving your idea
  • Sell it: Market your invention to people who might buy it

2. We also know everyone is inventive — and we do mean everyone! Today, you become the inventor. You will try new ideas, take risks, and learn how to keep going when things don’t go as planned.

Step 2: Think It

The first step of the invention process is to "think it," meaning to identify a problem you would like to solve and begin to imagine your solution.

What is the problem you are trying to solve?

What kind of solar powered invention will you create? Will your invention be large or small? How will your invention use the solar energy it collects? Will your invention have a way to store the solar energy? Who will use your invention?

Step 3: Explore It

The next step of the invention process is to "explore it.” Inventors ask: “How have inventors solved this problem in the past?” and then conduct research to learn more about the problem they want to solve or to understand solutions that already may exist. They learn from what others have already tried and make sure that their solutions are new or different.

Humans have used the sun’s light and heat to keep them warm and to grow crops. Usable solar energy can be in the form of heat, light or electricity. In 1954 the first practical solar cell was produced by Bell Labs. Today solar cells can be found on everything from cars, to toys, to decorative lighting around our homes.

Explore the history and science of solar energy:

Click here to explore the Solar on the Line exhibition website.

Click here to see a timeline of history of solar power.

Watch this video that explains how solar panels work.

Click here to learn about Maria Telkes the "Solar Queen."


The Lemelson Center gratefully acknowledges support from ConocoPhillips for this solar panel invention activity.

Step 4: Sketch It

Inventors use sketching as a way to organize their ideas.

Drawing an idea allows inventors to imagine what their invention might look like and how it will work. Try sketching out your invention before building! Take some time to sketch your ideas, images, and thoughts about what your solar powered invention might look like.

You can sketch your ideas with paper and pencil, or you can try using a digital format. Remember! Inventors rarely get it right on the first try. Whatever the method, you may need to erase and re-draw your invention as you continue to think through how you want to solve the problem.

Click here to learn more about inventors' sketches in the Smithsonian Collection.

Step 5: Create It

Now it is time to build a prototype of your invention idea. In this step, inventors get to see their idea turn into something three dimensional. Building a model can also help you learn about any issues there are with their invention design. Your prototype will show the layout and unique features of your solar powered invention.

How can you use these virtual materials to create a solar powered invention? How will your invention make use of solar energy? Who will use your invention? What will your invention do?

"As you create your design be sure to use the "Notes" feature in Tinkercad to describe the parts and features of your invention."

Click here to go to the Tinkercad site where you can create a solar powered invention.

Once you have created your design, move on to the next step in the invention process, Try It!

Step 6: Try It

Now that you have created your 3D model, take some time to imagine how people would use your solar powered invention.

  • Is there a way to store the solar energy collected by your invention?
  • What does the solar energy collected by your invention power?
  • How do weather conditions like rain or overcast skies affect your invention?
  • Will your invention be used inside, outside or both?
  • Can your invention be helpful to someone other than the user?
  • Is your solar powered invention large or small?
  • Who is most likely to use your invention?
  • What could you do to improve your solar powered invention?

Share your 3D model and ideas with others. Ask them for their input about your design.

  • What did they like best about your design?
  • What did they think needed improving?
  • What new ideas did you get by sharing your idea with them?

Step 7: Tweak It

Now that you’ve created your solar powered invention, thought about how it will be used, and shared your idea with others, it’s time to tweak your invention! Now is the time to ask yourself, "What changes can I make to improve my invention?”

Inventors typically don't succeed with an invention on the first try. Inventors make changes to their prototypes to make them work better. Usually, they tweak their idea many times before it is finished. Once tweaks are made, inventors test their inventions again. It can take many tries to get it right.

Go back to your design in Tinkercad and tweak your invention, based on what you learned from the "Try It" step.

Step 8: Sell It

The final step of the invention process is to sell your idea. Selling your invention is not only about putting it up for sale. Selling an idea often happens when you share your idea with others after you have made your final tweaks.

Tell us about your invention on social media:

  • Who will use your invention?
  • What makes your invention unique?
  • How does your invention work?

We want to hear from you!

We want to hear from you! Follow us on Instagram at @si_invention or Facebook @lemelsoncenter and use the hashtag #sparklab on your posts.