COLLEGE PARK, Md. – What do sails with wheels, a car topped with a stuffed turtle and a beach ball sloshing with water have in common?
All are wind-powered vehicles created as final projects by University of Maryland engineering students and set loose Tuesday in a campus wind tunnel.
Students, parents and administrators gathered in the basement of the J.M. Patterson Building to watch the culmination of design, computer drafting and old-fashioned hard work. More projects will be tested through Dec. 11.
“Keep going, keep going,” one student yelled at a vehicle that had slowed down and appeared as if it would not travel the required 33 feet.
It kept going.
The 360 students taking the school’s introduction to engineering class were placed on one of 60 teams and told to design and build a vehicle that could carry one pound. Only wind could be used to move it forward, but other energy could be harnessed to control it.
The project had to cost less than $150 and fit through a door opening.
One team, the Tradewind, made a square sail out of a shower curtain and attached it to a tripod of aluminum rods and two small wheels. The vehicle ran the 33-foot distance in 2.93 seconds.
“The requirement is that it make it from one end to the other, but there’s a little friendly competition to do it fastest,” said Steven Spivak, chairman of the fire protection engineering department and teacher of one of the class sections.
Although members of the Tradewind team said they were satisfied with their performance, they were quick to point out that one team’s vehicle took only 2.31 seconds to complete the course.
Team member Paul Ansah said Tradewind may have been able to build a faster vehicle but wanted to keep it simple. Simple also meant cost efficient. Their total expenses were $28.
“We got everything out of the dumpster,” said Matt Retzer, a team member. “The only thing we paid for was the shower curtain for the sail and some bolts.”
A team of graduate students who also accepted the challenge rolled a beach ball with a pound of water in it down the wind tunnel. Some first-year students watching admired their creativity.
Another team, the Hurricanes, built a wind-powered generator to move a vehicle to the finish line and back.
They used a contraption that looked like a metal windmill attached to an electrical generator to steer a model car. A stuffed turtle, the university mascot, rode on top of the car and carried a one-pound weight.
Their project cost $120, “including the paint,” which was red, white and yellow, the university’s colors.
John Birkmire, a senior teaching fellow for the class, said creating design projects is much more helpful than simply listening to lectures. The projects replace traditional homework and other laboratory work, he said.
They account for a substantial part of the student’s final class grade, Spivak said.
“This experience greatly enhances your design experience and also gets you excited about engineering and lets you know if it fits you,” Birkmire said.
This is the fourth year Maryland’s engineering school has required the projects. In the past, students have been told to design solar-powered cookers, windmills and human-powered water pumps.
A grant from the National Science Foundation covers costs for teaching fellows and smaller class sizes, said Tom Regan, project coordinator and an associate dean in engineering.
Regan said Maryland and six other universities divide $3 million from the science foundation. The other schools are: Howard University, Morgan State, Penn State, City College of New York, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Washington.
The idea could travel next year to a Montgomery County high school. A physics teacher from Paint Branch High School in Burtonsville has been observing Maryland’s introductory engineering class this year, Regan said. She may model a pre- engineering program at her high school after it, Regan said. -30-