In front of a room of 25 astonished faces I dipped my finger into the brine and dabbed the last of the water onto the flower, the LED popping on and cries of “But but…where’s the battery?” echoing amid “Wait…what?”

Saltwater LED Flower and Lamp 300x225 LCRC Homemade Papercraft Batteries Workshop

This workshop focused on understanding how a battery works by taking the traditional model of a voltaic cell and crafting homemade batteries out of paper and wire with 9 to 11 year olds through the LCRC after school program. This project is part of Artengine’s community arts initiatives and is funded by the Community Foundation of Ottawa.

Saltwater LED Flower and Lamp examples 300x225 LCRC Homemade Papercraft Batteries Workshop

I devised two designs that utilized the absorbency of paper to act as the salt bridge between two dissimilar wires. Wiring together 6 cells produced enough current to light an LED for 2 hours. I had an additional challenge of making the design solder less to accomodate the size of the class and the technical challenges of not having hot irons in the room we were in. In preparation for the class I cut out bases and laid out the rows of holes in the paper ahead of time so that the kids could just focus on weaving the wires and decorating the paper.

Saltwater LED Flower and Lamp table setup 225x300 LCRC Homemade Papercraft Batteries Workshop

All of the materials are common household items- salt, water, paper (the more absorbant the longer the LED stays lit), cardboard, the wire is easily purchased at a hardware store and the LEDs you can get at an electronics store. I’ve posted instructions on how to assemble them here. While testing the design the lights went through 6 uses of 2 hours each and it still seems to be going strong. After a while the metal will oxidize to the point of non-use, and then you can just recycle the parts or make something else with them!

It was great to see so much excitement over batteries- adapting the functional aspects into the design itself allowed the kids to really grasp the workings of the light and empower them to not feel dependent on store-bought batteries to power the things around them.