Streamwood High STEM students create winning invention

 
 
Posted2/2/2017 5:30 AM
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  • From left, Streamwood High School senior Andrea Greter and juniors Sam Enno and Adam Bender secure the blades of a wind turbine to their brackets as they build a microgenerator that could generate enough electricity to power a safety light for public spaces.

      From left, Streamwood High School senior Andrea Greter and juniors Sam Enno and Adam Bender secure the blades of a wind turbine to their brackets as they build a microgenerator that could generate enough electricity to power a safety light for public spaces. John Starks | Staff Photographer

  • Streamwood High School senior Kenneth Perez blows away the plastic shavings as he mills slits into a bracket to hold the fins for a wind turbine. He and classmates are building a microgenerator that could power a safety light. The idea could earn the school up to $200,000 in a national contest.

      Streamwood High School senior Kenneth Perez blows away the plastic shavings as he mills slits into a bracket to hold the fins for a wind turbine. He and classmates are building a microgenerator that could power a safety light. The idea could earn the school up to $200,000 in a national contest. John Starks | Staff Photographer

  • Streamwood High School precision manufacturing and engineering teacher Matt Erbach explains to students what he is looking for as they design a micro generator using wind power to illuminate public areas for safety. It's an idea that could earn the school up to $200,000 in a national contest.

      Streamwood High School precision manufacturing and engineering teacher Matt Erbach explains to students what he is looking for as they design a micro generator using wind power to illuminate public areas for safety. It's an idea that could earn the school up to $200,000 in a national contest. Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

  • Instructor Matt Erbach watches Streamwood High School students Sam Enno, left, Adam Bender, Andrea Greter, and Joe Nigliaccio as Matthew Suleiman films them building their wind-powered microgenerator -- an idea that could earn them up to $200,000 from a national contest.

      Instructor Matt Erbach watches Streamwood High School students Sam Enno, left, Adam Bender, Andrea Greter, and Joe Nigliaccio as Matthew Suleiman films them building their wind-powered microgenerator -- an idea that could earn them up to $200,000 from a national contest. John Starks | Staff Photographer

  • Streamwood High School students Gersi Minxoli, front center, Calvin Wingerd, right, and Eduardo Recendez work on their design for a wind-powered micro generator. The project has been named the Illinois state winner in the Samsung Solve for Tomorrow Contest and students have the opportunity to vie for a $200,000 grand prize.

      Streamwood High School students Gersi Minxoli, front center, Calvin Wingerd, right, and Eduardo Recendez work on their design for a wind-powered micro generator. The project has been named the Illinois state winner in the Samsung Solve for Tomorrow Contest and students have the opportunity to vie for a $200,000 grand prize. Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

  • Streamwood students and brothers, Mario, left, and Sergio Verdejo, help their classmates design a wind-powered micro generator.

      Streamwood students and brothers, Mario, left, and Sergio Verdejo, help their classmates design a wind-powered micro generator. Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

  • From left, Streamwood High School students Gersi Minxoli, 16, Calvin Wingerd, 16, and Eduardo Torres, 17, start to cut their initial design of the project to create a wind-powered generator.

      From left, Streamwood High School students Gersi Minxoli, 16, Calvin Wingerd, 16, and Eduardo Torres, 17, start to cut their initial design of the project to create a wind-powered generator. Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

It's a small generator that could power a small light, but the invention could pay some big dividends for a group of Streamwood High School students.

Their wind-powered generator idea won the state competition in the Samsung Solve for Tomorrow contest, which encourages teachers and students to solve real-world issues using classroom skills in science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics. The 16 students will compete this spring for 10 national finalist slots and ultimately a prize of up to $200,000.

The generator, which students started building this week, will stand about 2 feet tall and could power a safety light -- an economical way of illuminating poorly lit neighborhoods or public spaces, such as parks and parking lots.

"It's like a real-life experience," said senior Andrea Greter, 17, of Streamwood. "We're actually finding a problem and fixing it. We're working to make something real. (Engineering) can solve so many problems."

Matt Erbach, the students' mentor and engineering class teacher, says their generator is a "microgeneration" project -- the small-scale production of renewable heat and electric power.

"Essentially, we are using a tiny motor as a miniature energy generator," said Erbach, who also teaches precision manufacturing. "We are using wind power to generate enough electricity to power a safety light, not something that is as bright as a street lamp, but something to make it more visible. Microgeneration isn't really a big deal here, but in the developing world it is huge."

Microgeneration can use solar, air source, ground source and biomass energy. It can be an alternative or supplement to traditional centralized power grids that people, small businesses and communities can implement to meet their own needs.

Erbach, a Rolling Meadows resident and a teacher in Elgin Area School District U-46 for 10 years, has entered the contest twice before with other sustainable ideas; he hopes this third attempt will take the school all the way to the top.

Erbach's 2015 project to teach students about energy management and green housing while helping homeowners save on energy costs was named a state winner in the Samsung contest, but didn't make the national finals. Still, it earned the school $25,000 in technology grants, which went to purchase Chromebooks, printers and cameras for several preschool programs within U-46.

This year, Streamwood again will receive another $25,000 in technology goodies, including a laptop to create a video showcasing how the generator can be used to benefit humanity.

"It's tough to find a problem that the kids can actually get within striking distance of fixing," Erbach said. "Anything that is environmentally positive is a good thing. When you are designing something as an engineer, you are designing typically to make things better."

The nonprofit Tooling & Manufacturing Association Education Foundation is providing design and manufacturing support for this project.

Erbach said he looked into installing the lights powered by the students' generator at homeless shelters and churches in poor neighborhoods, but the ones he approached were reluctant to participate.

"We are looking right now for more local (sites) that we can hit quickly so we can meet the time constraints of the program," he said. "Our own parking lot in the school has some dark areas. The city of Elgin has community gardens that could benefit from a little bit of light at night. We want five sites to beta test. The kids are researching it right now."

Erbach also would like students to work on a wind energy-powered mobile device charger, like a USB, that could power a phone or tablet device in places with no electricity.

The deadline for project completion is Feb. 14. Before then, state winners will create 3-minute videos demonstrating their project and how they are bringing it to life. Samsung is partnering with crowdsourcing site Indiegogo to help schools raise funds online for their projects.

National finalists will be announced Feb. 20. They will then pitch their ideas to a panel of judges March 14 in New York, while people nationwide will be able to vote on their favorite ideas.

Three national winners will be chosen and those schools will receive a $150,000 technology grant and $20,000 donation to any nonprofit of their choice. They also will be honored at an awards ceremony this spring in Washington, D.C.

One school also will be selected as the community choice award winner based on social media voting beginning Feb. 21 through March 17, earning it an additional $20,000 in technology.

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