Students Give Their Wind Turbine a Whirl at GE Event

10 Apr 2017

Dozens of children from schools throughout the region competed Saturday at General Electric’s Schenectady campus in the KidWind Challenge, a wind turbine design competition.

KidWind is a national competition where school-age kids work in groups to design, build and test a wind turbine, pitting their creations against one another to see who can create the most efficient machine that produces the most energy. Judges also focus on documentation and presentation when evaluating a group’s project, as well as their knowledge of the wind energy industry.

The competition this year will culminate in a national championship contest in Anaheim, Calif., at the American Wind Energy Association’s wind power expo in May. Winners of the Schenectady competition will be invited to participate in the contest in Anaheim.

Veronica Barner, a services strategy leader for GE Wind who helped run the event Saturday, said each of the teams are given faculty coaches at their respective schools. For most teams the turbine design process began in September, with continual testing and improvements being made leading up to the competition.

Barner said the event teaches participating teams the value of perseverance, and exposes the students to the possibility of having a career in science and technology.

"I’ve had kids come in and say, ‘I want to be an engineer,’ and that’s why we keep doing this,” she said.

GE spokeswoman Katie Jackson said the U.S. trails other developed countries in its approach to teaching science, technology, engineering and mathematics to children at a young age, and there’s a need to reassess that approach that dovetails nicely with KidWind’s mission.

“We’ve got to change how we’re teaching our kids, and that’s what we can do with this program,” she said.

In all, 180 fourth- through 12th-grade students from 20 area schools participated in the competition, which has been held at GE for the past three years. Jackson added that the technical aspects of the program are complemented by what participants learn about teamwork.

“Part of it is the math, the science, but a big part of it is also the camaraderie of working on a team,” she said.

On Saturday each team got an opportunity to place their wind turbine inside a testing chamber at GE, which consisted of a series of box fans that blew air onto the turbines. Each turbine’s electrical output was measured by voltage and amperage, which was displayed on a TV near the testing chamber.

In the ninth- through12th-grade division, a seven-student team from Broadalbin-Perth High School took first place. The Broadalbin-Perth Middle School’s eight-member team took first place honors in the fourth- through eighth-grade division.

Teams from Mohonasen High School and Ballston Spa’s Clean Tech & Sustainable Industry Early College took second and third place honors, respectively, in the ninth- through 12th-grade division.

The Albany Academy for Girls also fared well, with two teams from the school placing second and third in the younger division.

Fourteen-year-old Mia Alonge is a member of the Whirlwinds, the academy’s team that placed third in the fourth- through eighth-grade division. She said before the judging occurred that she felt good about her team’s chances.

“We’ve been working on this since November and I feel confident in it,” she said, standing next to her team’s turbine.

Alonge said group problem-solving was one of her favorite aspects of the competition and that she’ll be looking to compete again next year.

“If someone had an idea and someone didn’t agree with it we had to figure that out,” she said.

Grace Conley, 10, and Lauren Cosselman, 11, of Lishakill Middle School, designed their turbine to look like a tree, with the blades of the turbine painted green to look like leaves. Conley said one of the things she learned in the project was that wind turbines can be an eyesore for the community in which they’re located, which was the reason for their green design.

The project had an added benefit for the two friends, she added. “We got to see each other more often because we’re best friends in school,” said Conley.

Nate Marreo and Ryan Soron, both 15 and sophomores at West Canada Valley Jr./Sr. High School, said their team got good marks on their engineering book, which laid out the design process, but for next year they'll need to find a belt material that doesn’t slip so much on the bicycle wheel they used in their design.

“It was really nice to bounce things off each other,” said Marreo of participating in the program.

He added that the team learned how much noise pollution wind turbines can cause and how to reduce the noise of their machine by using a pulley system as opposed to gears.

Ray Pitcher, an instructor with the KidWind Challenge for the last six years, said the secret ingredient to a good wind turbine is matching the number of blades on a turbine with the number of gears it has. The same design obstacle is one the pros at GE face themselves, he added.

“It’s a great introduction to engineering, to math and science,” said Pitcher of the KidWind Challenge. “It’s a true integration of these disciplines, and the kids are very enthusiastic.”

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