Lemelson-MIT’s program offers hands-on experience to high school students
By Kelsey Anderson, Contributing Writer
June 17, 2010 marked the fourth year of Lemelson-MIT Eurekafest program for high school students. This year 165 students from across the country presented original inventions and came together to build their own working wind turbines at the Museum of Science in Boston, MA. Eurekafest is the culmination of years of work done by teams of students, their teachers and, in many cases, their community. The Eurekafest process begins two years before the actual competition, when teachers and students submit an idea for an invention along with a grant proposal written to the Lemelson-MIT program. In October of the following year the grant winners are notified by Lemelson-MIT and begin working on their own inventions. The teams, known as “InvenTeams” have until June to complete their inventions and bring them to Boston to be showcased at MIT’s STRATA center. “The initial applications tell us if a team is viable in their area” says Ellen Dickenson, Invention Education Associate of the Lemelson-MIT Program. “Do they have support from their school and teachers? Do they have access to higher education? Do the teachers have hands-on experience?”
On Saturday, June 19 every school came together and, along with museum volunteers and “mentors” who can range from graduate students to GE engineers, were placed into groups and instructed to build a wind turbine made of common materials. Each turbine is placed in front of two fans and has a garbage can attached by a rope. When the turbines spin the rope is coiled and the garbage can is hoisted into the air to a maximum height of 25 ft.
The rules for this challenge are this - Teams may only use materials provided in their space, mystery items, and items purchased at the store. Each team will receive a mystery item that must be incorporated in their design. Teams must keep their operation within their defined space. Teams may test their turbines multiple times. The device must be free-standing. Fans cannot be moved. Teams will have two minutes to lift from the time the fans are turned on. The height is measured at that point - if maximum height is achieved the time will be the score instead. The winning team will be the team with the greatest height, or fastest time to maximum height.
“This is really the day everyone gets to let their hair down” says Dickenson. The day’s events culminate in a grand “lift off” where each team’s mentor lifts garbage cans filled with balloons into the air and let them drop, letting the balloons fly into the air and crashing the garbage cans to the ground. A series of awards were given out at the end of the day. These awards included “Best Use of Duct Tape,” “Best Use of Mystery Item,” “Most Team Spirit,” “Efficiency (least amount of money spent)” and “Maximum Payload in Minimal Time.”
For most students the journey to Eurekafest was long and difficult. The team from Clintonville, WV could only bring nine of the 28 students that worked on their invention. “We have great support through Lemelson-MIT, but we have to have more mentors in our community,” says team leader and chemistry teacher Angela Leaf. “It’s a lot of hard work and a lot of free time, but it’s worth it. I wish I had someone help me in my high school days the way we are with these kids. I have a couple of mentors who work with me and with our school at after school programs. We are constantly looking for grant programs in the STEM areas so our kids can get as much hands-on experience as possible.”
Clintonville’s InvenTeam created an environmental sensor that can be dropped into a nearby eater reserve. “We wanted to develop a system for monitoring the water and we wanted something with sustainability,” says Leaf. Clintonville’s team has a partnership with the town’s water association and was able to work with them to create a sensor that will remain in the water and eliminate the need for people to go into the wetlands.