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Turbine project keeps the wheels turning

It was as if they were sitting across the boardroom table.

First-year Seattle University engineering students fired off questions about wind turbine design and manufacturing, and Central Kitsap High School students answered with ease.

“Can you make hollow parts?,” asked one Seattle University student during the Jan. 24 meeting.

Asked another, “How smooth can you make the edges of the blade?”

Between the undergrads and the high school students there was also a healthy amount of joking and laughter.

But it wasn’t just a boardroom that separated the two groups, it was the Puget Sound.

With the aid of a video conferencing system, Central Kitsap High School advanced engineering CAD students and Seattle University first-year engineers are collaborating to design and build wind turbines.

The CKHS students use plans generated by Seattle University engineering students to draft three-dimensional plans and print them on a three-dimensional printer.

“The design will be the most challenging part,” said junior Paul Ruth, one of 11 students in the CKHS class. “We have no idea what we have to design. Some (students) will have simple ideas and other will have more complex ideas.”

A $108,000 Learning Community Grant from the National Science Foundation financed the teleconferencing equipment, according to Jim Adamson, the teacher who spearheaded the project. The grant requires Central Kitsap High School to build a model for a learning community that other schools can apply, then write the concepts in a manual and present it at state and national conferences, Adamson said.

The program was designed to encourage students to go into engineering by connecting them with undergraduates and teaching prototyping and testing skills, Adamson said. He chose Seattle University because he had connections with the school’s engineering department.

When the printed models are complete, they are mailed to SU. At the end of the semester, the students meet face to face and test the turbines, which have clean-energy and aerodynamics applications, in a wind tunnel.

“It was awesome,” Adamson said of the Dec. 6 testing round. “The first one they put in shattered — it got more hoots and hollers than any of them.”

Students experiment with both turbine designs and coatings for the models. Wax coating is most effective so far, Adamson said.

“More surface area and varying the angles on the (turbine) blades works,” said CKHS junior Toby Slaton.

During the twice-monthly teleconferencing meetings, the students exchange ideas and query one another. In between, teams communicate via e-mails and trade designs online or by mail.

The collaboration and access to the 3-D printer has made the project easier for Seattle University’s would-be engineers.

“Our designs will be easier to create. The last class had to build them themselves with different materials. When testing comes along it will be a level playing field,” said Josef Gabruel, a Seattle University freshman.

The most important skill the program teaches is teamwork, said Greg Mason, a Seattle University professor who teaches engineering drawing.

“Students learn to work in groups. It’s very important. When you get into the work world you’re not working on your own,” Mason said.

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