Proficiency in the STEM fields - science, technology, engineering and math - is in decline in North America. As such, we face new and pressing challenges if we hope to thrive in an increasingly technology-focussed global economy. Evidence suggests that outreach programs provide youth with opportunities to acquire knowledge and skills needed to succeed in a technology-oriented future.
Thus a primary goal of the ePOWER Youth Outreach Program is to spark interest in science and engineering, particularly in power electronics and alternative energies. Specifically, the program targets students in grades 7-12 in the greater Kingston region, with the aim of encouraging them to pursue science and engineering as a post-secondary educational choice.
A secondary objective of the program is to provide education regarding a clean energy vision and a ‘green’ lifestyle. We wish to raise awareness of the limitations of current energy and power systems. We also aim to highlight the current research endeavours of the ePOWER research group and how these initiatives can contribute to green energy solutions.
A REPORT ON OUR 2010-2011 ACTIVITIES
Following the success of our Power Up enrichment mini-courses offered last year as part of our youth outreach initiative, we continued to expand this program in partnership with the Queen's Fuel Cell Research Centre.
Enrichment Mini Courses
This year, the Power Up enrichment course was offered at two levels: grades 7-8 and grades 9-11. The grade 7-8 stream was held over 3 days and included 15 hours of instruction. The grade 9-11 stream was held over 5 days and included 20 hours of instruction. The content of the two Power Up streams was similar, but concepts were explored in greater depth at the secondary level. The Ontario science curriculum was consulted to develop appropriate learning objectives for the course. The secondary school stream featured a field trip to a local wind farm on Wolfe Island. Students were recruited through the Queen’s Enrichment Studies Unit, and included students from the local (Kingston) region, and from across Ontario, as well as international students on exchange programs.
The course introduced students to the fundamentals of alternative energies sciences, as well as showcasing recent advancements in these areas. Our syllabus incorporated a broad range of energy-related issues from power generation and transmission to alternative energy sources including fuel cells, solar power and wind power. We also explored some of the social, ethical, and environmental issues related to the current energy crisis. Learning objectives not only included fundamental math and science relating to alternative energies, but also embraced elements of social responsibility, the “green” philosophy, as well as the development of personal and professional skills which are essential to the engineering profession.
Major activities and themes included:
Electrical Circuits – Students were introduced to basic concepts (voltage, current, resistance, power) and their relationships (Ohm’s law, power equation). Students applied these relationships to solve simple circuit problems with resistances in both series and parallel. They also gained practical skills in using a multimeter to measure these quantities, and learned how a multimeter works.
Electricity Generation – Students learned how electricity is generated using the principle of electromagnetic induction (Faraday’s law). Students constructed mini hand-powered electrical generators that they could use to power a small light bulb. They observed how changing various parameters (number of loops, strength of magnets, rotation speed) would affect output voltage and related this to Faraday’s law. Students also learned about the law of conservation of energy, and that energy is converted from various forms (mechanical, chemical) to create electrical energy (electricity). We explored the use of turbines coupled to a generator to convert kinetic energy into electricity, as well as the design variations of turbines for different applications (e.g. wind, hydro, steam). Students were tasked to draw flow diagrams depicting the energy conversion process as energy is transformed from various sources (coal, nuclear, hydro, wind) to create electricity.
Emerging Energy Technologies – In this module, students worked in small groups to research an emerging energy technology. They became the experts in this field and were asked to teach fellow students about the science behind the technology and potential uses, as well as highlighting the pros and cons and key facts. Students not only had the opportunity to enhance their research abilities, but also to develop teamwork, teaching and presentation skills. Topics researched included biomass, algae oil, solar thermal, geothermal, solar satellites, wave energy and tidal energy.
Solar Energy – In this module, students were given a brief introduction to elemental chemistry including electron shells and valence electrons. Students then learned how these concepts are applied to produce electricity using photovoltaic and dye solar cells. Over a two-day laboratory, students constructed their own dye solar cell, and compared the result to a standard photovoltaic cell. They gained valuable laboratory skills such as using a pipette, measuring and mixing chemical reagents and laboratory safety.
Fuel Cells – Students were given an introduction to redox reactions, including balancing chemical equations using a proton exchange membrane (PEM) fuel cell as an example. Students learned the benefits and drawbacks of fuel cells and potential applications of the technology, as well as current channels of research in this field. Students were also able to construct and test mini PEM fuel cell cars.
Batteries – Continuing with the chemical theory of redox reactions, students constructed an electrochemical cell with copper and zinc electrodes (Daniel cell). Using a table of electrochemical potentials, students estimated the electrical potential of the Daniel cell and confirmed this using a voltmeter to measure the output.
Wind Energy – Throughout the course students were introduced to the science behind modern wind turbine design including aerodynamics, material selection and gearing. Their challenge was to build their own miniature version, with prizes awarded for performance, design, and use of materials. One stipulation was that the turbines be constructed from recycled materials, so students had to source their supplies throughout the week. An electrical generator was provided and students worked in pairs to construct miniature wind turbines. Students presented their design decisions to the group and an outdoor challenge was held to measure the amount of power generated by each design.
The grade 9-11 stream also included a trip to a local wind farm on Wolfe Island, the second largest wind farm in Canada with 86 wind turbines. Students were given a tour of the wind farm maintenance facility by the lead maintenance engineer. They were able to see all of the components of the wind turbine first-hand, including the 30-metre-long blades and the gearbox. They also stood at the base of one of the turbines in action to appreciate the size and power of the structure. The maintenance engineer did an excellent job of discussing some of the common myths of wind turbines as well as the potential disadvantages of this technology.
New this year was a separate stream for grade 6 students, called Power In Action, which featured an extended field trip to the Wolfe Island Wind Farm. Students spent the entire 5-hour day learning about wind energy. Students were introduced to the Beaufort wind scale and given a worksheet to estimate wind speeds at various checkpoints throughout the day. At the wind farm, an extended presentation in one of the educational classrooms taught the students about the anatomy of the wind turbine, and detailed the construction process of the wind farm. Students also got to see a piece of the underwater cable which carries electricity from the wind farm to the neighboring city of Kingston – this is the largest cable in the world and holds the Guinness World Record. As with the grade 9-11 trip, students saw the computer monitoring facility and spare parts as well as a wind turbine in action. We also stopped at a farm with solar panel installations, and briefly introduced the students to solar power.
Secondary School Science Co-op and Skills Major Placement
Members of our Youth Outreach team attended the Power Engineering Education Consortium in March 2011 where we learned about a new Specialist High Skills Major (SHSM) stream in power engineering set to commence in Ontario secondary schools. We have since developed a mentorship and co-op placement for this new SHSM program. In June 2011, we met with key members of Limestone District School Board to express interest in offering a work placement at our research facility. We have since developed work plans for three potential projects for a SHSM trainee which fulfil program objectives. We hope to have our first trainee at the ePOWER lab in the 2011-2012 academic year.