Using the waves of Lake Wallenpaupack, 15 students at Wallenpaupacak Area High School are developing a wave powered electric generator. The generator will power lights, that will be located on docks around the shores of the lake. Adam Haig, a senior, explained that the up and down motion goes through coils that generate a current that can power a light.
To construct their invention, the students received a $10,000 grant through the Lemelson-MIT InvenTeam initiative, that supports selected students throughout the country, as they try to solve a problem in their community with their own creativity.
The project began, when one student brought a flashlight that turns on by shaking it to class. Members of the school's gifted student program, the group decided they wanted to create something that could generate electricity by simple movement.
Haig said the wave generator could be compared to a pogo stick with a magnet, because the one object moves inside of another that is stationary. The stationary tube has a coil in it, and when the magnet moves through the tube, he explained that an electric field is generated, allowing electricity to flow through the wire.
After writing an extensive application, the students produced a, "complete high quality package," said Leigh Estabrooks the Invention Education Officer of the Lemelson-MIT program. Last week, Estabrooks spoke with the students and their families at the high school. By focusing on fixing a problem in their community, Estabrooks told the students that the judges were impressed as they, "could feel how vested you were in making it work." An additional asset to their 12 page application, she said, was the two drawings that they presented, that many other applicants often don't. Additionally, by looking at intellectual property and world patents, Estabrooks said the judges were pleased.
Estabrooks said students aren't told what to do because it is up to them to find a problem to solve. By doing that, she said students ultimately want to fix the problem. She added that, "young people aren't afraid to try and they don't know what they don't know." The process of solving their problem is, "in time learning," because aside from finding a solution, she said the students realize what resources they have.
Aside from discussing the group's strengths, she also gave them suggestions and expressed some of her concerns. One concern questioned how they will test their device come winter. So far, there are a lot of details the students have to work on, but one student suggested a pool and another said an aquarium.
By the end of Christmas vacation, Estabrooks said the students should have a test method in place. Besides looking to their mentors for direction, she encouraged the students to reach out to former InvenTeam winners, that created items that had similarities to their generator.
Since the end of the last school year, the students have been working on their invention. Rhiannon Bogart-Mandrik said it is amazing that the group is making something that will help others. A ninth-grader, Bogart-Mandrik said building something that's new and different, has been fun.
While doing research, the students looked to wave generators in Norway that, ninth-grader Kristen Denniston, said functions in the open sea and is very large. That generator is different, he said, in part because it powers cities and is more contained inside a buoy. Looking at patents, Haig said the generators in Norway, is the only item that had similarities. He said the students are using a different method and their generator has a different purpose. Bogart-Mandrik added that the group's invention is, "more consumer friendly because it is smaller and there is less voltage." The generators in Norway, one student said are controlled by electric companies, as opposed to the group's generator which can be controlled by individuals.
So far, the students admitted that there have been several challenges. One, was trying to keep coils straight which was "a nightmare," Bogart-Mandrik said. Haig replied, "And yet, we moved on."
Biology teacher and the students' advisor, Gene Schultz told the parents that working with the mentors from PPL, is a great partnership because of the resources that will be available to the students. He called the project a, "good experience," that will be hard.
Come June, the students' will present their finished wave powered electric generator at EurekaFest in MIT's Museum of Science in Massachusetts, where it will be judged. A three day celebration of inventors, the students will meet MIT professors and many others.
Estabrooks warned the students that they need to be, "careful of what you wish for," because to some, the media attention is overwhelming. Some InvenTeams have traveled to the White House, while others have been on programs like the Katie Couric Show. The Lemelson-MIT program, Estabrooks said, wants the students to understand the intellectual properties, but it isn't expected that they will get a US patent. If they do though, that would be grand she said.
With their prototype last week, the students were able to generate some electricity, which Schultz called a, "big step." And a few days earlier, Sebastien Aparicio, a ninth-grader was able to get a circuit to work. To keep the public informed, the students may create a Facebook and Twitter account, but they have already started a blog which can be accessed at: Schultz said the blog is a little rough, but the students will be working on it shortly.
A sophomore, Paige Politewicz said, "We've got our work cut out for us, but I think we can make it work." While Walter Wilson, also a sophomore said, "A tsunamis of work is coming."