A Traip Academy team of budding engineers learned some lessons in physics and teamwork, and along the way, garnered honors at a recent statewide wind turbine competition.
Two teams from Traip participated in the University of Maine annual Windstorm and Wind Blade Challenge, and one of the teams walked away with second place overall for its floating turbine platform design.
The competition was sponsored by the Advanced Structures and Composites Center (ASCC) at UMaine, with more than 40 middle schools and high schools participating.
According to Traip Academy physics teacher Ed Disy, the goal was very precise: Build a wind turbine platform with a blade connection no more than four inches off the water, using no more than $100 for materials. Submitted with each design was a business plan detailing how they spent their funds.
Disy said the competition has practical applications. The ASCC this month completed the country’s first floating wind turbine, which is expected to be placed in the water by 2016. The competition is intended to spur interest in the turbine program. Disy said they were told the winning prototypes may be used as a model for future turbines.
Teams could choose to either build a prototype turbine or a prototype floating platform for the turbine. Both Traip teams chose to build a platform.
The teams began meeting in December, first creating plans on paper and then transforming those plans into the actual model.
“I do a lot with the sciences, and I do pretty well,” said senior Josh Wiswell, who will attend University of Southern Maine this fall as an electrical engineering student. “But I haven’t done the engineering part.”
Creating a model from plans was key to his interest, he said, “although we learned the real world is not as perfect as the calculations.”
Disy agreed it was the learning experience that mattered most. “What we talked about is learning by failing,” he said. “It doesn’t always have to come out right.”
For instance, one team created a platform out of plastic plumbing tubing, only to realize after it was built that it sat too high in the water. The solution was to use bricks to add weight.
The other team created a platform using a weighted-down gallon milk jug and a plastic pail. To get the correct buoyancy, they drilled holes in the pail so it would fill with water. When it was 4 inches off the water, they used duct tape to plug the remaining holes.
That model was the one that won second overall, likely in part because the team only spent $8 to build it.
“The best thing is applying it to real life,” said team member Teancum Keele. “In math and science, you learn equations, but how does it apply to actual situations?”
Keele’s team included Taidgh Robinson and Nathanial Thomas. Wiswell’s team included Enya Childs and Talia Dennis.