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May. 03, 2011

Harnessing the Elements: Racing Sail Cars

by Christopher Hong

Click to enlarge images

OBJECTIVE
Students will be able to:
1) distinguish between nonrenewable and renewable energy
2) understand that wind has energy and the stronger the wind, the more energy it has
3) identify ways of harnessing wind

KEY CONCEPTS AND VOCABULARY
Wind Energy – moving air molecules; a renewable source of energy

CONNECTION TO THE STORY/DISCUSSION
Why is it beneficial to harness the elements? That’s because our supply of fossil fuels is decreasing and since they are a non renewable energy source, they will eventually run out. Thus, another form of energy must be used in order to gives humans a continuous supply. Renewable energy sources will not run out. Some examples are wind and solar energies.

Wind energy is one of the simplest forms of energy to understand. Wind energy is renewable because the wind constantly blows around the world due to pressure differences in the atmosphere. Wind is currently being harnessed in wind farms made up of windmills. When the wind blows, it spins the sails of the windmills to produce electricity. This provides a good alternative to fossil fuels, but it takes up a lot of space, is not very efficient, and hurts the ecosystem.

MATERIALS
For experiment:
- 1 box
- 2 bamboo skewers
- 4 styrofoam balls (1.5" or 2")
- 1 straw
- box fan
- play-doh
- tape
- pencils
- string
- paper
- construction paper
- aluminum foil
- plates
- posterboard

For demos:
- 1 bubble machine
- 1 ping pong ball
- 1 coup
- tissues
- a large piece of cardboard
- a small piece of cardboard

DEMONSTRATIONS

Demo 1 - Win With Wind

How can you get the ping-pong ball/styrofoam ball through the obstacle and into the cup without touching it, touching it with another object, or moving the table? Have a bunch of obstacles (random objects) on the table and place a ping pong ball on one corner and a cup on the other. Your goal is to get the ping pong ball into the cup without physically touching it. If the ball falls onto the floor, you must start all over. To make it even more exciting, try to do this within 3 minutes.

Demo 2 - Wind as Bubbles

Blow some bubbles. You can think of the air as a bunch of bubbles. If there is wind, air particles, like the bubbles, move in the direction of wind. When the air particles hit a light object, like a tissue, it moves. Therefore, wind has energy. If the wind is strong, it can move bigger, heavier objects. If the air just stands still, there is little to no energy.

Demo 3 - Tissue Blower

In this demo, the goal is to try to blow a quarter of a tissue five feet. Have a starting line and a finish line. To make this demo exciting, have a time limit of 3 minutes or have a race to see who can get the tissue across 5 feet the fastest.

Demo 4 - The Wind is so Strong!?

In this demo, try holding a small piece of cardboard in front of a strong box fan. Then try this again holding a large piece of cardboard. Which one was harder to hold? Why? Think about area.

Demo 5 - Wind Turbine Demo

You can build a simple wind turbine with a simple pin wheel and a motor. Attach the pin wheel onto the shaft of the motor. When you place a box fan in front of it, the pinwheel will spin and turn the motor and this produces electricity. Several simple wind turbines can be combined together to light up an LED.

HANDS-ON ACTIVITY
A sail car is an example of a wind-powered car that harnesses wind energy to move. In this experiment is to build the fastest sail car using the materials provided. Use a box for the body, 4 Styrofoam balls for the wheels, and skewers are the axes. Then attach a sail to your car using paper, plastic wrap, aluminum foil, a plate, etc. and test it out.

There will be two challenges for your sail car:
The Distance Challenge -- Place your sail car in front of a box fan and see how far it goes.
The Speed Challenge -- Race your sail car with others. You can use hand fans or blow on your cars to see whose sail car is the fastest.

REFLECTION
How far did your sail car travel in the Distance Challenge?
How can you make your sail car travel faster in the Speed Challenge?
How did you harness wind in the experiment?

ASSESSMENT
How does wind have energy?
Why do engineers want to harness wind?
What are some ways to harness wind?
Why aren’t we using sail cars today?

Here is the link to the one pager, which summarizes the experiment in one sheet of paper: Wind Energy One Pager.

Read a teacher's personal account of using this lesson plan at Teacher's Review: Harnessing Wind Energy.

__________
Christopher Hong is a sophomore electrical engineering student at The Cooper Union.

Iridescent, a science & engineering education nonprofit, uses science, engineering and technology to develop persistent curiosity and to show that knowledge is empowering. Through their Engineers as Teachers program, Iridescent trains undergraduate, graduate and professional engineers and scientists to develop engaging, hands-on, design-based science courses for underserved children and their families, and to communicate cutting-edge science concepts to large, diverse, public audiences.
About Christopher Hong

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Science Friday.

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