Got wind? It’s a slogan you may have heard lately, or seen on a bumper sticker. For Vinalhaven School’s science classes, the answer is “yes.”
Students in the 7th and 8th grades spent six weeks last fall studying wind power and building their own wind turbines, and the 11th and 12th grade physics class is currently working on the Maine Wind Blade Challenge to be held at the University of Maine at Orono in May.
Science teacher Amy Palmer’s middle school classes spent the fall learning about sources of energy, both renewable and nonrenewable, with a focus on wind energy. According to Palmer, students were divided into groups of four and charged with the task of building their own wind turbines.
Each group included one engineer, one recorder (both written and visual), one computer person and one peacemaker, and was given the parts to make a four-foot turbine. Student groups had to research how to make the blades, including size, shape and materials.
Eighth grader Bethany Candage was the recorder for her group. She said she recorded data her group found on different types of blades and the amps, volts and watts that could be generated by each. Candage’s group used “mostly cardboard and paper” to build their blades, she said.
At the end of the project a contest was held to decide which turbine could generate the most energy. “We tested them inside using a fan as our “wind” since they could be compared easily that way,” said Palmer. “In the final contest we used a water pump…to see whose group could pump the most water in one minute. They were surprisingly successful.” One group “actually got their turbine to spin fast enough to generate nine volts of electricity!” she said.
Wind energy has long been a part of Palmer’s curriculum, but having three new turbines on Vinalhaven enhanced the unit this year. “Everything we did during our wind unit related to real life, which was really cool,” she said. “Our discussions were much richer because of it.”
All Vinalhaven students toured the Fox Island Wind Project last fall, and many participated in the ribbon cutting ceremony in November. Candage “found the tour interesting,” she said, “because they explained how they kept the wind turbines up and the mechanics of it, and how much energy they could produce.”
“I think the students were able to learn quite a bit when they went up to the site for a tour,” said high school science teacher Meg Lyons.
Lyons’ physics class has been working on the Maine Wind Blade Challenge several days a week since January.
The challenge will be held May 14 at the University of Maine AEWC Advanced Structures and Composites Center and is sponsored by the North Star Alliance Initiative. There, students will test their blades as well as present their research and design process to judges.
According to Lyons, the goal of the challenge “is for students to learn about and become familiar with composite materials and composite manufacturing technologies, as well as wind energy concepts.” To this end, students are charged with designing and fabricating a wind blade assembly, including a hub, which will generate the most energy over a three-minute period.
Each class is given the materials and a set of guidelines for the blades, including three 18 inch by 3 inch by 6 inch polyisocyanurate foam blocks that can be shaped or cut to any size. Each team is paired with a composite partner that will provide fiberglass cloth and polyester or vinyl resin. Vinalhaven’s composite partner is Journey’s End Marina in Rockland.
“I have turned the project completely over to the students,” said Lyons. “They are responsible for the research and design of their set of blades. The foam will be shaped by the kids to the design they choose, and the fiberglass will be cut to shape to cover the foam. In late April the class will travel to Journey’s End where they will be instructed in how to infuse the blades using the Vacuum Infusion Process,” she said.
Kris Osgood is a freelance writer who lives on Vinalhaven.