Education

Students participate in wind turbine design competition

Wind Magedon teammates from Blossburg Elementary watch their wind turbine in the wind tunnel during the Pennsylvania KidWind Challenge at Bald Eagle Area High School on Saturday.
Wind Magedon teammates from Blossburg Elementary watch their wind turbine in the wind tunnel during the Pennsylvania KidWind Challenge at Bald Eagle Area High School on Saturday. adrey@centredaily.com

When it comes to competition, middle school students in the Londonderry School science club said it’s “friendly.”

So, when eighth-grader Seth Carter went out of his way to help another competing team from the same Harrisburg-based school he attends, on a wind turbine project, it wasn’t that big of a deal.

“We’ve all been friends for so long, and we’re here to have fun and just represent our school,” Seth said. “If I know a way to make things better than someone else might know, I’m willing to help. I think any one of us here would do the same for each other.”

The Londonderry School brought three teams to the fourth annual Pennsylvania KidWind Challenge on Saturday at Bald Eagle Area High School.

It’s a wind turbine design competition for fourth- to 12th-grade students who attempt to create a winning apparatus that could take them to nationals in May in New Orleans.

Students come here excited, because it’s not your average science fair. It keeps kids enthusiastic about the competition and keeps them coming back, and is a good transition into other STEM-integrated projects

Leah Bug, assistant director for the Center for Science and the Schools at Penn State

“Students come here excited, because it’s not your average science fair,” said Leah Bug, assistant director for the Center for Science and the Schools at Penn State. “It keeps kids enthusiastic about the competition and keeps them coming back, and is a good transition into other STEM-integrated projects.”

Science, technology, engineering and math were the main components behind building a wind turbine, Bug said.

“They’re learning the engineering behind creating the project and learning all sorts of science concepts,” she said.

This year’s challenge included 14 teams from four Pennsylvania schools.

A team from Bald Eagle Area was slated to participate, but dropped out, said Susan Stewart, Penn State aerospace engineering faculty member and director of the Wind in Schools program.

“They were our driving force for hosting the event here,” Stewart said. “We like to hold it at a school with a local connection.”

Stewart said the event was hosted three times at a Centre County school and once in Harrisburg.

In addition to a showcase of all the student-made wind turbines, there were also games, a wind tunnel testing station and a Wind and Wildlife presentation by John Taucher, of the state Wildlife Commission.

For Londonderry’s three teams, members went into the competition with a different mindset of what it takes to make a successful wind turbine.

It came down to the shape of the blades and the percentage grade they were angled at.

Eighth-graders Caroline Healy and her partner Maddy Weiss said they cut balsa wood into pointed blades with a large amount of surface area.

Caroline said the larger the blade’s surface area, the easier it was to pick up wind power.

When they tested their apparatus in the wind tunnel, it created a maximum of 3.8 volts of electricity.

A duo of seventh-grade students created the second-most amount of voltage among teams from their school after creating a wind turbine with blades that mimicked the wings of a hawk, and positioned them at a 15-degree angle.

Davin Keck and Jackson Odom said they first positioned the blades at a larger angle but found it was less conducive to attracting wind power.

“We scaled it down so it could pick up more wind, and it worked,” Davin said.

Seth, who was part of a team called Absolutely Atrocious Aardvarks, said he and his teammates created blades from balsa wood and shaped them like a blade you could find on a helicopter.

They then positioned them like a spin wheel in order of least to most surface area and created 7.5 volts after testing it in the wind tunnel.

“What we find is that it takes a lot of trial and error until you find what works best,” student Nadia Elmourli said.

And Stewart said testing is half the battle.

“We know kids will come here with a plan, but then find it won’t work as well as they thought, so we give them the tools to help them succeed and learn in the meantime,” she said.

Penn State students were also on hand to give feedback to teams before the judging process, which measured creativity and design.

The top three middle and high school teams are eligible for the national competition.

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