A New Tech High School senior wants to be an electrical engineer.

So when the opportunity to design and build a small wind-powered electrical generator arose, Rawan Abu-Zaineh was understandably excited. Not only would she be working with electricity, but the project perfectly aligned with her plans for the future.

“When I graduate, I want to focus on the environment. It would be cool to start getting those skills early,” Abu-Zaineh said.

Of course, it’s no sure thing that Abu-Zaineh’s design will be chosen.

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She will be competing with 100 classmates divided into 50 teams. Each group will submit a fully functional prototype. The designs will then be evaluated by a panel of engineers from several firms around Columbus.

The winning design will serve as a model for a full-scale working wind generator, which will become a permanent fixture on the high school campus at 2205 25th St. in Columbus.

Design and construction stages are only part of the multi-year project, said Gail Nowels, the New Tech High School physics teacher heading the project. While Rawan’s class will be responsible for building the structure, maintenance falls to future generations of students.

“The real science begins when the structural failures start,” Nowels said.

As ambitious as high school students can be, they are not yet fully trained structural engineers, Nowels said. The newly placed windmill will likely suffer both mechanical and structural problems.

And Nowel’s thinks that’s fantastic.

When the windmill breaks, a new generation of students will just have to fix it. In order to do that, they’ll be forced to learn new concepts in physics, Nowels said.

Shafer Hess will be competing with Abu-Zaineh in the design competition. He literally aims a little higher than his classmate when it comes to his post-high school ambitions.

He plans to major in physics at Purdue University with the goal of eventually studying astronomy.

For him, the new windmill is a chance to get his hands dirty working on an actual, functioning project.

“I like the hands-on approach,” Hess said.

Advanced physics, the class designing and building the windmill, is optional for graduation. He could have taken other, science-oriented classes such as advanced chemistry.

But Hess said he likes being in the lab working on specific problems such as those posed in creating a working wind generator.

Windmill projects

This is Nowel’s second student-designed windmill.

The first, built in 2012, spins away at Keeping Hill Eco-Housing unit between Ogilsville and Grandview Lake. Electricity produced by the device feeds directly into the local power grid.

“When the weather is right, it will actually run the electric meter backwards,” Nowels said.

But, there were some problems with this first design, she said.

In this simple device, several metal fins catch the wind, spinning a metal post attached directly to a small power generator, Nowels said.

While effective, there is no real way to track the amount of power created by the machine, she said.

Because of its distance from the high school, Keeping Hill is inconvenient when it comes to incorporating the windmill into class activities, Nowels said.

The new generator will incorporate a digital display, allowing the class to monitor voltage in real time. By locating the machine on campus, it also will be easier for classes to work with the device, Nowels said.

Building within city limits brings with it additional challenges, which were not a concern during the first project, Nowels said. City zoning ordinances regulate changes to the outside of buildings in Columbus, including the addition of new structures on school property.

This provides, yet another educational opportunity, Nowels said.

Several New Tech government classes will be working with the advanced physics class to ensure that the project meets all local building requirements.

Funding for the initial design stage of the windmill project comes from a $5,000 Bartholomew Consolidated School Foundation grant.

The first windmill would have cost more than $10,000, Nowels said. However, several Columbus companies donated materials and expertise. Central Sheet Metal Co. donated all of the sheet metal used in construction. The Cummins Technical Center also machined several custom components free of charge.

Nowels said many of the firms involved in the first project have already expressed interest in supporting the new endeavor.

Preliminary designs will be reviewed at the end of March, Nowels said. She hopes to complete construction before the end of the year.

By the numbers

Number of students participating in windmill design project: 100

Number of teams: 50

Students per team: 2

Winning designs: 1