Summer science: build a solar oven

This year’s summer forecast is is spelled f.u.n. when your child cooks in this solar oven made with her own two hands.

Photo courtesy of NASA

Solar energy is the energy we draw from sunlight. The sun’s rays can be converted into other forms of energy, such as heat or electricity. The amount and intensity of sunlight varies by location, weather, and climate conditions, which affect its availability on a daily and seasonal basis. The type and size of a solar energy collection and conversion system determines how much of available solar energy can be converted into useful energy.

Cook s'mores, quesadillas, hot dogs, and more...
Cook s’mores, quesadillas, hot dogs, and more…

In the 1830s, the British astronomer John Herschel famously used a solar thermal collector box (a device that absorbs sunlight to collect heat) to cook food during an expedition to Africa. The energy from the sun is what heats up our solar ovens. Let’s get started:


  • medium or large cardboard pizza box.
  • aluminum foil
  • two (2) clear plastic sheet protectors
  • sharp knife or scissors
  • pencil
  • ruler
  • black construction paper
  • black duct tape
  • wooden spoon or dowel


  1. Lay one of the plastic sheet protectors on top of the pizza box and trace around it with a pencil or Sharpie.
  2.  Use a sharp knife or scissors to cut out the traced lined. Cut 1/2″ shorter on all sides so that the plastic will fit over the entire opening.
  3. Lay the first clear plastic sheet over the top opening and tape all sides down with black duct tape.
  4. Cover the entire inside of the pizza box with aluminum foil (leaving an opening where the plastic sheet is). The aluminum foil will reflect heat and light and help warm the oven.
  5. Lay the black construction paper in the middle of the bottom of the box.
  6. Tape the construction paper down with black duct tape.
  7. Use the wooden spoon or dowel to keep your oven open. To adjust the temperature, close the oven and let the sun shine in!


For more more science activities and a free teacher’s guide from the U.S. government, click here.

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