ORONO, Maine — Two teams of Orono High School students put in extra hours during their April vacation and woke up early on Wednesday to put one of the final touches on small-scale wind blades they will use to compete in next week’s Wind Blade Challenge at the University of Maine.
With the help of Tom Snape, a research engineer at UMaine’s Advanced Structures and Composites Center, seven students — all freshmen and sophomores — infused their foam and fiberglass blades with resin that will solidify and, they hope, help the blades withstand the competition’s rigorous wind tests.
Infusion involves putting the blades in a large plastic bag along with a layer of cloth and mesh, vacuuming out the air and pumping in a resin mixture that seals pores and imperfections in the surface.
The students started the project early in the school year as an extracurricular activity, according to Christine Crocker, an Orono High School teacher who oversees the team along with Jack Ledger, the school’s shop and technical drawing teacher.
Emma Peterson, a freshman at Orono High School, said the team started out by researching various wind blade shapes and created test models out of foam to see which shapes worked out best.
She said her experience with the wind blade team has exposed her to engineering and built her interest in the field.
Before this project, Peterson said she didn’t know much about wind turbines or how they work. “I just saw them spinning,” she said Wednesday. But the process of helping her team research and build its own blade has helped her interest grow, she said.
Some students said they were surprised at how much they’ve gleaned from their work with the turbine blade project.
“It’s definitely not something I thought I’d be doing [when I started high school],” said Tyler Jewett, a 15-year-old sophomore who said an interest in working with his hands and building things drew him to the team.
Orono is the fifth Maine school to infuse its blades at the Advanced Structures and Composites Center. Other teams from across the state did the infusion step at facilities — boat-building shops, for example — with similar equipment to that used by the university’s lab, according to Snape.
The competition was developed by the Maine Composites Alliance in partnership with the Advanced Structures and Composites Center and the Maine Wind Industry Initiative. It pits high school and middle school student teams against each other to see who can research, design and build the best model wind turbine.
The competition, now in its fourth year, has grown from 26 teams representing 14 different schools in 2009 to 52 teams representing 25 schools this year, according to event spokeswoman Sylvie Boisvert.
Winners are chosen based on student presentations to judges about their blade designs and the amount of wattage their blades can produce. Winning team members who go on to attend UMaine receive a $20,000 paid internship at the Advanced Structures and Composites Center.
The Wind Blade Challenge is scheduled for 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Friday, April 27, at the New Balance Student Recreation Center on campus.