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Klahowya students seek alternative source of energy in state competition

From left, Darren Slater, Benjamin Dachenhausen and Jacob Neubert test their prototype that attempts to use magnets to produce energy. They entered the project into a state competition in May. Slater and Neubert graduated from Klahowya Secondary School in June and Dachenhausen will be a senior in September and will continue working on the project. - Kristin Okinaka/staff photo
From left, Darren Slater, Benjamin Dachenhausen and Jacob Neubert test their prototype that attempts to use magnets to produce energy. They entered the project into a state competition in May. Slater and Neubert graduated from Klahowya Secondary School in June and Dachenhausen will be a senior in September and will continue working on the project.
— image credit: Kristin Okinaka/staff photo

His family lives off the grid in Seabeck using solar panels and generators. It got recent Klahowya Secondary School graduate Darren Slater thinking last year of other ways to create an alternative source of energy — magnets. So, with his friends, Jacob Neubert and Benjamin Dachenhausen, the group decided to build a magnet-powered generator.

The teens had more than their share of skeptics.

“We had so many people tell us it’s not going to work,” said Slater, 18.

The skeptics didn’t deter them from at least trying.

Working throughout the school year, the three entered their creation into Imagine Tomorrow, a competition that challenges high school students to construct new energy sources. Although they did not walk away as winners from the competition held in May at Washington State University in Pullman, they aren’t giving up. More than 120 teams from 46 high schools around the state competed. Their prototype is currently not entirely operable but with time and money, they think things could change.

And, having a partially operable model is better than drawings.

“It’s great seeing it from paper to prototype,” said Neubert, 19.

Their vision is to have a machine that would spin using the repulsive forces of magnets and it would maintain momentum and generate electricity. For their prototype, a battery started the process but the wheel did not continue to spin because there was less power going in than was produced by the magnets. Had it continued spinning, a small motor would have turned on a light signaling that all parts came together to work.

They  knew that with their prototype, they were trying to make more power go out than was going in — which goes against the second law of thermodynamics.

But like many teenagers, this was a rule they aimed to break.

“They change the laws of physics all the time, so we wanted to be next,” Slater said.

By submitting their prototype into the competition, the trio resurrected Klahowya’s science club, which had been dormant for the past seven years their advisor Jobie Flint had been teaching science at the school. Now other students have shown interest in joining the club to submit other projects into the state competition next year, Flint said.

“They used the competition for motivation,” said Flint, adding that the group began working in November and spent at least two hours weekly working on it.

The trio learned about electrical circuits and experimental design on their own time to build their project including getting tips on circuiting and wiring from a local electrical engineer and learning how to assemble the rectifier — a device that converts alternating current to direct current — from an employee at Manette TV.

Slater and Neubert graduated from Klahowya in June but Dachenhausen, 17, who will be a senior in September, will continue the project with the science club. Slater currently has a job as a cook at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard and hopes to become an electrical or mechanical engineer. Neubert will attend Maine Maritime Academy in the fall and wants to become a diesel engineer aboard a ship.

Although the current project may not be a complete success, they believe it has the potential.

“It’s scalable. All the components can go bigger or smaller,” Neubert said of the magnets.

Most of all, they had a vision and followed it.

“We took a wild stab at it,” Dachenhausen said.

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