ORONO, Maine — Friday was a regular school day for students from the Maine School of Science and Mathematics, but the location and lessons were altogether different.
More than 130 students from the Limestone-based charter school spent the day on the University of Maine campus, touring science and engineering facilities and learning what kinds of projects UMaine students are working on now and in the near future.
“In order for the state to continue to move forward, we have to keep as many of our graduates from high schools and show them all the wonderful opportunities there are here in the state of Maine,” said Habib Dagher, director of UMaine’s Advanced Engineered Wood Composite Advanced Structures and Composites Center, before he delivered a talk about wind power to the students. “We’ve taken it upon ourselves to travel the state to talk to students. [MSSM officials] wanted us to go up there and we thought, ‘Why not bring them down here.’”
In the morning, Dagher gave some students a tour of the composite center’s laboratory and workshops. Other students had a chance to see UMaine’s Climate Change Institute, and still others visited engineering laboratories and facilities. In the afternoon, Dagher spoke to the students about the future of offshore deep-water wind power.
MSSM math instructor Luke Shorty and Dagher also announced Friday the first of what they hope will become an annual competition among high school students to design a floating wind turbine platform.
Competition details will follow, but the MSSM students may have an advantage over the rest of the state — they did something similar last month when they designed scale models of what the university is aiming to build in the Gulf of Maine and tested them in the school’s pool.
Shorty had seen Dagher speak at several statewide conventions and conferences, and contacted him about the idea for the competition and for bringing students to Orono.
“I thought to myself, it’s important for MSSM students to see what opportunities there are here for science and math students,” Shorty said.
“It’s a great opportunity for the students to see the things they could be part of in just three or four years. They’re at the age right now where they’re trying to figure out, ‘Where do I want to go to school?’ So that was the start of it.”
During his talk, “Transforming Maine’s Economy: Floating Offshore Wind,” Dagher discussed the opportunities for jobs and investment in the state in the coming decades.
Dagher has estimated Maine has the potential to produce 127 gigawatts of power in deep water — from 60 to 900 meters, about 200-3,000 feet — within 50 nautical miles of the coast. By comparison, the entire U.S. coastline has about 1,500 gigawatts of offshore wind potential in waters deeper than 60 meters within 50 nautical miles of its shores.
Should development of wind power remain on track in the next 20 years, Dagher said, there is an opportunity to create 15,000 jobs. UMaine and a consortium of 40 other private and public interests have a test site near Monhegan Island in the Gulf of Maine.
“You are the future,” Dagher told the group, which included MSSM and UMaine students and members of the public. “This is going to be a big part of transforming the future of Maine.”
Several students said they were interested in the work on wind power being done by UMaine students, as well as other projects on campus.
MSSM senior Rhomni St. John of South Portland said she was struck by what she saw the mechanical engineering students doing Friday.
“When we went through [on the tour], they were doing mechanical biomedical applications such as surgery and engineering robotic hands, which combines mechanical, biomedical and electrical [engineering],” St. John said. “I just think that’s the coolest thing. Think of where you can extend that when you have hands that can think and function like humans.”