From Great Neck to Ijevan – Bringing Solar Energy Education to Armenia

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GREAT NECK, N.Y. — Designing, writing, and preparing to teach students is usually something reserved for teachers during the summer, but South High senior Antranig Baghdassarian flipped the script this year.

An Armenian-American hailing from Great Neck, he has always had a passion for science and technology — and also his Armenian ancestry. The combination of these interests led him to create his very own workshop on solar energy which he taught virtually to students in Armenia this past summer.

Great Neck may be thousands of miles away from Armenia, but Baghdassarian did not let the distance, nor numerous other difficulties, prevent him from bringing the workshop to other young adults in the homeland. The idea came to be when, after an interview with an Armenian repatriate from Syria, he learned that solar energy in Armenia was only a fraction of its full potential. Beyond having his own childhood intellectual curiosity in solar energy, based on research Antranig did, he also found that Armenia had a lot of potential for that form of renewable energy, but the infrastructure, awareness, and education needed to bring that change was lacking. Furthermore, the International Energy Association showed that Armenia was an ideal candidate for solar energy (producing 720 kWh more than the average annual solar energy flow per square meter of horizontal surface of the Europe average). From thereon, seeing both the void and potential, he brainstormed several ideas on what could be done.

“At first I just wanted to see if we could get and install solar panels… though that would help Armenia get some solar energy but wouldn’t be a long term solution, so I thought that would be a bad idea.” Instead, Baghdassarian thought it might be more beneficial to simply start teaching children in Armenia about solar energy so that the younger generation was more informed and could eventually themselves decide how, where, and if solar energy should be implemented in the country.

Now set with the idea to teach about solar energy, Antranig got to work preparing his workshop materials. Though he planned on teaching virtually, Baghdassarian still wanted to have it be an engaging and hands-on experience for the younger generation, so that it could create a spark in their minds about the power of solar. As such he decided to have a two part presentation, one virtual and the other an interactive, hands-on portion for the students.

“I wanted to focus on the making and function of the solar panel… you hear all the time about it working but until you really see the mechanism and use it, you might not believe its capabilities,” he said.

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Thus, Baghdassarian explored several options of prebuilt solar panel kits and in an unfortunate twist of fate, the only suitable kit he found at the time which would explain with the level of granularity he hoped to teach about was no longer being manufactured.

But this was not a roadblock for long. Baghdassarian, who also happened to be enrolled in a pre-college program at Columbia University, consulted his advisor there on how to build his own solar energy cells. Baghdassarian bought all of the parts he could find readily available (improvising in some cases), and ultimately after days of tinkering, was unsuccessful due to the inability to find the electrolyte necessary for the experiment. Not giving up, Baghdassarian found another kit which he modified so the students in Armenia could complete the exercise with the available resources.

With that solution in place, Antranig modified the instructions given by the kit for creating a solar cell, created his presentation, and arranged for the materials to be sent to the students in Armenia. The classroom he taught was a mix in age but primarily high school students, with their group based out of the Restart Ijevan NGO, located in Ijevan (a town in northern Armenia). Baghdassarian does not speak fluent Armenian, however, he was able to have an interpreter on the ground translate the course as he walked them through the science behind solar energy and instructed them on how to build their very own solar cells.

“Even through Zoom, it was so exciting to see kids standing on their tip toes trying to get more sun and actually seeing energy being produced and measured through a multimeter [an instrument used for measuring electricity which was connected to the solar cell].”

Baghdassarian feels his class was a success and his suspicions about the need for increased awareness on solar energy were confirmed. When he asked how many students had ever heard of solar energy, he explained that .”.. [v]ery few students raised their hands, and that’s when I realized what I was doing is important.”

Given the success and need, he plans on continuing to host the workshop in future iterations. This first experience, despite its challenges, helped Baghdassarian discover what it took to prepare the workshop, decide to continue teaching it, and also tweak elements of the existing presentation to better suit students’ needs in Armenia. As for his own future, Baghdassarian is interested in furthering his studies in science, and exploring opportunities to help people on a grand scale through innovation and technology. Though this summer he led only one classroom, the lasting impact on those students and many more is only the beginning of what is to come from Baghdassarian.

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