Growing the next generation of scientist and engineers

By Ramona du Houx

October 31st, 2010 

During the summer UMaine’s advanced composites center (AEWC ) sponsored a program for high school students to develop and test their own floating wind turbines, learning real engineering skills. As they floated their projects in a pool, their eyes lit up seeing their designs working. They were participating in what could be Maine’s future.

“As you know, these students are the next generation of potential scientists. One of the major challenges they’ll be facing is the rising cost of fossil fuels and global climate change. So understanding renewable energy being part of the renewable-energy revolution is what we’re trying to teach them,” said the Director of AEWC Habib Dagher.

Having the students work on new designs assisted AEWC, too.

“We got a small taste of what it takes to design these units. Having the students here was not only a great learning experience for them but for us as well,” said Dagher.

Because of this pilot program’s success, AEWC is providing information to Maine high schools on how to participate in a new statewide competition — Windstorm Challenge, to be held in the spring of 2011.

During the past year, thousands of Maine K-12 students have worked with AEWC students and staff, discovering basic concepts of science, engineering, technology, and math, through activities including building spaghetti bridges, designing floating wind turbines, and other hands-on learning experiences.

Hundreds of K-12 students also traveled to the UMaine campus to tour the AEWC labs and to participate in special activities such as Engineering Expo, Robotics Camp, and Wind Blade Challenge 2010.

To enhance the K-12 experience for visitors to the AEWC labs, graduate students have been developing new tour materials for the upcoming academic year. Packets of materials and hands-on activities to supplement the basic AEWC lab tour are available to K-12 teachers. These materials are tailor made for elementary, middle- and high-school students and include games, activities, and suggested projects to help students learn more about composite materials and engineering, to reinforce their campus visit and to build the next generation of scientists and engineers.