Fire Retardants: Friends or Foes?

As I sat down to watch a documentary called Toxic Hot Seat (2013), directed by James Redford and Kirby Walker, I was anticipating an hour and a half of boring film assigned as homework in my AP Environmental Class. As the movie ended I was left with a new, frightening understanding of “ignorance is bliss” and a whole new inventory of knowledge.

The movie began with an introduction of a retired San Diego fire chief named Tony Stefani.


Photo taken by me of a tag on furniture in the dorm

He introduced himself as a infallible firefighter who enjoyed the thrill of running into a fire and had little fear. Until he was diagnosed transitional cell carcinoma in his right kidney, a rare form of cancer normally found in individuals who work in the chemical industry. Firefighting? A chemical industry? It may not seem so but as the movie introduced numerous cases of fire fighters, men and women, diagnosed with cancers. These men and women were victims of a common household toxin known as flame retardants. And beyond that “of the 84,000 chemicals in commercial use in the united states (flame retardants to household cleaners) a majority are exempt from regulation and most have never been tested of safety”(ToxicHotSeat). The victims of these toxins are far from limited to fire fighters. Studies fueled by these cases revealed the bioaccumulation of various toxins that people come in contact with in their homes daily.


This film focuses mainly on TB117, a fire retardant instituted in California as “Technical Bulletin 117” in 1970. TB 117 was a result of a unsettlingly high amount of fire related deaths; In a time period where about 40% of americans were smoking cigarettes and it was normal to smoke indoors discarded or dropped cigarettes were causing an uprise in fire related deaths. This fueled an argument between Tobacco Industries and Individuals fighting for fire safety between self extinguishing cigarettes or flame retardant furniture. Tobacco industries claimed that they couldn’t sell a self extinguishing cigarette and that the best solution was to make flame retardant furniture, TB117 was California’s solution which flew under the radar until it was in furniture in homes throughout the United States and Canada. The immense reach and effects of untested, harmful toxins prompted in depth research into what families were unknowingly being exposed to.


Photo taken by me of my chair’s tag. Meets flammability standards but contains no added flame retardant chemicals.

Arlene Blum, Ph.D, executive director of Green Science Policy Institute and a chemist at UC Berkeley, was one of the researchers. In a lecture style classroom Arlene explains, “when foam burns in the presence of organal halogens (like TB117) it gives off way more carbon monoxide soot and smoke, and what kills people in fires?”, Arlene asks, “Toxic Gasses”(Blum). Studies by Vytenis Babrauskas, a civil engineer, fire modeler, and the founder of Fire Sciences and Technology Inc., have been incorrectly referenced by chemical companies claiming that fire retardants cause a fifteen times slower burning rate in furniture with these toxins. However, it was revealed that that is only the case in NASA grade flame retardants that Babrauskas was testing, and instead the diluted flame retardants used in furniture only slowed fire by 12 seconds. This being said, these chemicals were revealed as somewhat ineffective flame retardants that release the carbon monoxide soot and smoke that Blum confirmed as a significant cause of fire related deaths. So, it seems like the consumer is getting the worst of both sides when they buy a new couch filled with somewhat ineffective flame retardant that is proven as a harmful toxin.


Arlene then introduced Tris Phosphate, a flame retardant used in children’s pajamas. Blum explains, “we found a little girl who had never worn tris treated pajamas, so we put her in the pajamas and we collected her urine, and the next day there were true breakdown products in her urine… and they were cancer causing chemicals that we were finding” (Blum). This study resulted in a ban of tris treated pajama sales put in place in 1977. However, “coronated tris is the most commonly used flame retardant in furniture and baby products”(Blum). The biggest fear when coming in constant contact with these toxins is the bioaccumulation of these chemicals in the body, “they go into your body and they stay, and over the course of your life they can cause serious health problems”(Blum). PBDE’s, organohalogens like flame retardants, are found in over 90% of americans bodies (breastmilk, blood, urine, and amniotic fluid). They have been found to cause birth defects, adulthood cancer, and lower IQs.

The most disturbing aspect of these studies is when scientists, safety officials, and government advocates stand up to try and change usage and exposure of these chemicals only to be quickly shut down. Many attempts were made, 2008 AB 706 was proposed to ban brominated and chlorinated flame retardant, it failed. In 2010 SB 772 was proposed to


Photo taken by me of a tag on dorm furniture containing the chemical TB117

exempt some children’s products from TB117 and SB 1291 was proposed to re evaluate flammability standard, both failed. These attempts were being easily shut down by chemical companies with billions of dollars at their disposal. This is the aspect of the movie that made me concerned for today’s society. These companies were falsely persuading citizens to stand with them to enforce fire safety while lying about the effects these toxins could have. This movie has cemented the validity of “ignorance is bliss” to the point of concern. Though it maybe easier to live a life unaware of these threats I am glad I am informed and though there isn’t much I can do individually knowing that these issues are out there has given me the ability and choice of avoiding these toxins to the best of my ability.




Pond Study

Our AP Environmental Class has started looking into the pond and studying theIMG_1304 biodiversity and overall health. We started the process by collecting Biotic samples with benthic sampling. We then transferred them to plastic tubs where we sorted out the organisms we found. Our first discovery was 2 crayfish. This imagewas an exciting start to the lab and gave us a lot to look forwards to. Allie Clarke, Katie Hayes, and I where assigned Site 1, which was and inflow site. This being said there was a lot of detritus on the pond floor and made it a bit more challenging to remove the organisms from the original sample. We also measured the water’s turbidity, dissolved oxygen level, water temperature, and weather. This data is important because it can reflect discrepancies in data. This lab work is exciting because it brings the current curriculum into a real life situation which, personally, makes the information we are studying seem more relevant and creates a bigger purpose.


Photos by Me

Determining the Health of The Proctor Pond

1.) Is the Proctor pond healthy? That is the question that Alan’s E and D block APES class spent an hour trying to answer. How did we measure a healthy pond vs. an unhealthy pond? We had several days of data collection in which we collected biotic and abiotic data. After collecting our own data we looked at other groups’ data and previous years data to compare. The data we collected would help us to determine the level of health/diversity of the Proctor pond.


Photo by Allie Clarke

2.) Alan supplied us with some basic tools to investigate the pond:

-four spoons with holes in them (to pick up animals)

-a pocket magnifying glass

-three pipettes of various sizes to suck up small animals

-one spoon with no holes

-one tupperware with three different sections

-one plastic bin

-phosphate tablets

-ph tablets

-probe to test the dissolved oxygen, temperature and pH


Crayfish discovered via Benthic Sampling Picture Taken by Cassie


Allie observes found organisms Picture Taken by Cassie

3.) We collected our biotic data with benthic sampling which involved using a generic net in a figure eight motion along the bottom of the pond. While one of us w
as doing this another would fill the plastic bucket with water, and then we would put the sample in the net into the bucket. Because of the location of our site and the time of season there were a lot of leaves on the bottom and in our samples. Our next step was sorting through the leaves picking out any macro invertebrates or other aquatic animals we might have caught. Human errors that occurred during this process were lack of attention to detail while we were sorting through the leaves, we may have missed some of the small macro-invertebrates that were attached to leaves. When we did find something we either used the spoons or the pipettes to move them into the smaller tupperware container. Once the organism was in there we observed it and took pictures. When class was over we emptied the bucket and the tupperware back into the pond.


Dissolved Oxygen and Temperature readings taken Oct.26 @ 2:13 Picture taken by Cassie


Turbidity reading taken Oct. 26 @ 2:10 Photo by Cassie

We collected our abiotic data with phosphate tablets, pH tablets and the probe Alan passed around the groups that measured dissolved oxygen and water temp. Both the pH tablets and the Phosphate tablets worked the same way, one of us would fill a vial with pond water from our site and then we added the tablet, for the phosphate specifically we had to help the tablet dissolve by keeping the vial moving for about two to five minutes. The pH tablet dissolved much faster. When both tablets were fully dissolved we matched the new color of the water in the vial with the colors on the cards Alan provided. We also found the turbidity of the pond water using the Jackson Turbidity test, to do this we filled the graduated cylinder given with water and put it over the graphic on the card and matched what the graphic looked like with the different shades of the other graphics.

4.) Site 1 is an inflow zone and is located in a tiny alcove in the southwest corner of the pond, bordered in trees and brush. As we began collecting species with benthic sampling the organisms we initially discovered only the large species such as the crayfish which was the first species we discovered on the first day. However, on the first real day of sampling (Oct.20) we looked into the water collected with more focus and discovered an exciting variety of macro invertebrates such as the the mayflies, the case building caddisflies and other insect nymphs. Our blocks two biggest sampling blocks took place at around 2 in the afternoon. The weather was cold for each day with the temperature the first day hovering just above 10℃ and the water measured at a freezing temp of 10℃ as well. October 26, our second day of data collection, was even colder than the first. The air temperature was recorded at 12.6℃ at 2:00 and the water temperature was recorded as 9.2℃. This was an important observation because there was significantly less organisms and diversity levels discovered on October 26. The care of detail however increased with each sampling session as we discovered how many smaller macro invertebrates were there to be discovered with a closer look.


Pond Map by Cassie (arrows represent inflow and outflow sites)

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Biotic Data Table


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Abiotic measurements

6.) From 2014 the Diversity Index Score (a numerical measurement device that calculates the species diversity in an ecosystem) has dropped by .79 to 6.35 where it IMG_1479 2sits after another round of pond explorations. So what does it mean? The most important thing to observe when trying to answer this is past data. In 2007 the Diversity Index Score was 19.3, in 2008 15.4, in 2009 .74, in 2010 11.7, in 2012 7.26, in 2013 14.3, and finally, in 2014 7.14. The obvious overall trend in this set of data is that the diversity level is steadily decreasing. However, there are measurements such as 2009 that claim an outlier of .74. This discrepancy in data can be a result of many things. The data collected wasn’t accurate, weather prohibited proper data collection,  the installment of steam pipe directly adjacent to the pond, or many more. So, for our purposes to determine wether or not the pond is getting more or less healthy I won’t consider 2009’s data as much. Another inconsistency is the complete absence of data in 2011 as a result of harsh weather that restricted students ability to collect data. Further variables to consider are the steam pipes mentioned earlier that were installed in 2009 underneath the path bordering the south shore of the pond and the construction of turf fields in 2012 bordering the north shore of the pond. Industrial materials used and the change in landscape are very valid reasons for why 2012’s results were a substantial drop fromIMG_1478 2 2010s data and 2013’s. However, 2013’s data claims that the pond got really heathy and diverse for one year before dropping back into the single digits. This discrepancy can be a result of extra detailed data collection or poorly organized data collection that led to the recount of already documented organisms that gave the false sense of an unusually diverse pond. But because we can’t be sure we just have to make hypotheses and focus more on what we do know. Such as, each year samples were consistently taken in October, the same species were searched for and recorded, and sites remained in the same position. Additionally, we must consider variables that could alter data collection like, data collection methods used, the number of APES blocks that were collecting data and which sites were observed, the changing of the landscape around the pond, and weather. One general set of data we can consider is the number of stoneflies observed as they need healthy, high quality water to live in. We can back up the notion that water quality/ pond health is diminishing when we consider that 5 stoneflies were observed in 2007, 2 in 2008, 1, in 2010, and 1 in 2012. However, Though the population is decreasing there is still a presence of stoneflies in the pond which proves that the pond is somewhat healthy.

Some variables should be considered in more depth the discern whether or not the data can be accurately considered. The average of dissolved oxygen in 2007 was 2.5 mg/l, in 2008 1.67 mg/l, 2010 was 1.6 mg/l, 2012 was 1.5 mg/l,
IMG_13462014 was 7.9 mg/l, and 2015 was 6.7 mg/l. Dissolved oxygen is a good indicator to pond health because the more recorded means a healthier pond. So in the data above one might assume that the pond got a lot more healthy in 2014/2015 because DO increased so much but we must consider that we introduced new equipment in 2014 that gave a more accurate reading of dissolved oxygen. Nonetheless, what we can take from this data is that the two higher and more accurate measurements of DO in 2014/2015 prove that the pond is somewhat healthy. One conclusion I feel comfortable making is that the pond is moderately resilient, after considering the detrimental changes made in the environment around the pond (steam pipes, turf installation) this ecosystem has been able to maintain a healthy level of diversity. The differences in data collected can be considered many different things, but some differences that would be very difficult for us to consider is concepts such as, intra and interspecific competition, competitive exclusion, species coexistence, resource partitioning, characterFullSizeRender-4 2 displacement, and others. Intraspecific competition (between members of the same species) could be a reason why we no longer see as many of one species. Also, Interspecific competition (between different species) could result in and increase of one species and the decrease of another that may throve off the same resources. Competitive exclusion can cut off another species from a resource altogether and we could lose that species in the pond. On the other hand,more positive concepts are ones like species coexistence, character displacement, and resource partitioning that allow organisms to share the resources, or adapt to use others.

Digging through piles of detritus in cold water to find macro invertebrates and otherimage organisms may not seem like the most exciting thing a class could do but you’d be wrong to think that. The most satisfying thing as a student after reading and taking notes is seeing the concepts you learns manifest themselves in real life situations. This type of hands on learning is enjoyable and informative at the same time. It allows students to learn but not realize it because they’re are having fun and are truly interested in what they are learning. The fact that this experiment is located at the center of our campus, a pond that we see multiple time per day is even more relevant. Im excited to see the following year’s data and keep up with pond health observations.

(All pictures, unless labeled otherwise, are taken by Cassie Cote)

Watershed Field Trip

For Monday’s AP environmental science class we took a field trip that began on IMG_0799Black Water River. As we were walking to the river’s edge from the road we were reminded of the ABCDEE’s of environment science (Abiotic, Biotic, Cycling, Diversity, Energy, Evolution). On the trail to the river we were asked to observe biotic(living) and abiotic(non-living) organisms that we though played a role in the surrounding ecosystem. We saw some horse scat which we knew was an important factor in the life of a fly. We also noticed that the trail was scattered with large rocks but also coated in a layer of sand, similarly to the river bank. The sand is an important part of a Turtle’s life cycle because sand is able to lock in heat which enables turtles to stay in that area. Additionally, the river serves as one of the largest transporters of abiotic organisms and nutrients, which makes the land surrounding the river diverse and a good place for life. At our first site, Black IMG_0787-2Water River, we recorded the air temp at 20.6°C (69.2°F) and the water temperature at 11.1°C (52 °F). These temperatures can give us an idea of the which kinds of organisms can survive/ are living in this water. Another factor that life in the river depends on is PH – which measures the acidity of the water – our PH reading at Blackwater was 5. This was important because when Allie later discovered a rock that was hoIMG_0790me to Catus flies we learned that they could only survive in water with a PH of 5 – 6. Even though with the current cause constant changes in all these measures factors, the presence of these Catus flies told us that the PH never fluctuates outside
of the 5 – 6 range. The next measurement we took at this site was the turbidity of the water. Turbidity measure the amount of floating debris in the water, this is important because if there is a excessive amount the particles can hinder the ability of sunlight that reaches the river floor, which can then impede photosynthesis. The water at this site was a turbidity of 0 JTU’s which means little debris. This was clear when we observed that amount of algae that was able to grow on the rocks in the river bed.

After taking our measurements we drove to a our second site – Eagle Pond Tribune – which was further up the same body of water we had just observed. Some clear IMG_0806differences we noticed at site 2 was a stronger current, more grass, more sunlight, warmer water and the water level was shallow. Our first action at this site was to record temp, turbidity, and PH. Air temperature was 24.4°C (76°F) and water temperature was 17.6°C (63.6°F), these temperature reading were higher because there was less brush around the river blocking sunlight causing this portion of the river to receive direct sunlight. Next, we measured a PH of 7 which means the water was neither acidic or basic but rather neutral. The recorded turbidity at site 2 was constant with site 1 at 0 JTU. This was evident by the amount of plants and animals that we found living in this portion of the river.

On of the biotic organisms we discovered via “kick netting” was a stonefly. Stonefly’s are a clear indication of water quality because they only reside in excellent quality water. This site was was fascinating because of the amount of organisms we uncovered. We found a crawfish, a mollusk, a stonefly, and a nightmare inducing dragonfly nymph.
Our next stop was Pleasant Lake. This was and important stop because it is the
body of water that feeds into Eagle Pond Tribune and Black Water River. The most obvious differences at this site was that we pulling into a parking lot directly next to the lake, we then were able to stand on a man made concrete ledge, this was a lot different than the earlier two sites we had to walk through the woods to get to. The temperature of the water was 21.1°C (70°F) and air temp was 22.7°C (73°F), because site 3 was an open lakIMG_0864e with trees only covering the edges it makes sense that the water temp was higher as a result of a larger surface area and direct sunlight. We then measured the PH at 7 (neutral) and the turbidity at 0 JTU. Though these measurements are very similar to the data gathered at site 2 there was a clear lack of life around the edges of the lake. As a result of the concrete and steady flow of human traffic, the presence Abiotic and Biotic organisms was substantially lower and far less diverse. However living systems are able to self regulate, so just because there wasn’t life around the edges doesn’t mean that there isn’t a population of species just as diverse further in the lake. Laws set to help regulate the lakes ecosystem include checking boats for invasive species that can disrupt the ecosystem and setting a strict limit on the amount nitrogen and septic waste allowed in the water.

Throughout the lab there was obvious changes in data from site to site, for example, the water temperature increased the closer we got to the main body of water, the amount of life observed different at each site, and the fluctuation of current strength. However, there was also data such as turbidity that stayed constant through all of the sites and pH which was constant at site 2 and 3 and slightly more acidic at site 1. It was truly a learning experience seeing for yourself how the condition of water can vary so much even though it all flows from the same place.

My favorite site to visit was Eagle Pond Tribune because it gave us the opportunity to observe the organisms that lived in the water which was eye opening to me. I IMG_0860-1have never enjoyed swimming in lakes or ponds and that feeling was cemented when a dragonfly nymph was extracted at site 2. This field trip was most rewarding, i believe, because as we learned all of the characteristics of the water and how influential and important they are to the organisms living in that water we were able to see real life examples that not only confirmed what we learned but really tied the lesson together to the point where I could see how everything connected and relied on one another.

Final Touches

Wrapping up the year in climate science meant putting the final touches on our generator projects. ThisIMG_3964 isn’t as easy as it sounds. Putting the final touches on something usually means you just have to polish it up or tweak something here and there. For this project we were left at the end not generating as much energy as we knew we could and we were overall discouraged as a team. The finishing touches ended up being a rewire of our entire coil system. The powering force in our project is a theory called induction. Induction is a process that produces energy when a conductor crosses the path of a magnetic field by sending electrons through the conductors. The first main component we had to consider when building a generator with inductions is the formula E = Blv. E is the variable for Electromagnetic Force, B – magnetic flux density (strength of the magnetic field), l – the length of the conductor cutting the field, v – the speed at which the conductor cuts the field. This equation gave the team a quick summary of which variables were most important to produce energy most efficiently and provided us a task to focus on to begin the project.

Creating a generator from scratch is a generally simple process with a lot of little variables that can greatly effect tFullSizeRender-1he outcome and make this project such a great learning experience. The snags we hit in the building process were usually quickly resolved and we were on our way again. However, when reached a place where we had 4 coils producing theamount of energy one coil could create we had to do some brainstorming. We probably rewired the coils ten time yielding no improvement which discouraged and demotivated the group. As we were giving up Sue reminded us that we just have to check all the coils and start new with a better coil diagram and we will prove successful. She was right and we took a break, looked at the whole picture, and, started again. After the rewire were able to generate around 5 volts and .08  amps when we powered the generator manually, which was a new record for us. Volts x amps is the formula to find watts, which tells us how much energy we are able to convert from wind to power. Volts is the maximum amount of energy we could potentially create however it relies on amps, which is current. Even if we are able to create a lot of energy it won’t result in anything if the wire we are using as a current cant move the energy particles fast enough to create usable energy (watts). This means even though our generator could produce 5 volts the current wasn’t strong enough so it could only generate .08 amps which gives us a total of .4 watts (another realization that amazed us. About 60 watts are necessary to power a lightbulb! we weren’t even cFullSizeRenderlose). Our generator produces energy by sending energy particles through the coils every time the coil passes through magnetic field. Since our magnets are attached to the back of the rotor when the rotor spins with wind power and causes the coils to pass through the magnetic field the generator produces bursts of energy. This type of energy flow is Alternating Current(AC) as opposed to Direct Current(DC) which provides a constant flow of energy in one direction. In the video below of our generator in action you can see how the we aren’t producing a constant reliable number of volts but instead varying amount with each rotation. This inconsistency is a result of alternating current.

IMG_3963This project was unlike any other school assigned project I’ve done because we were given incredibly lose guidelines to follow and Sue was learning with us. We couldn’t go to the teacher and get the answer because she didn’t know either, this encouraged us to use all of our resources available to complete our generator. Our hands on approach also made the learning easier because we ere able to get attached to our machines and want to learn more. Sue was nervous about this experimental term in Climate Science, not knowing which direction it would go in. However, Sue created an exciting, curiosity filled class environment that made the project and the entire term extremely successful and enjoyable.

Wind Power From Scratch

Climate Science class is all about breaking the molds of normal education and stepping into a realm of hands on interactive learning. Building the model wind and water power kits was the fIMG_3774irst step in this adventure; the kits introduced us to the involved nature of a building project but kept us restrained with specific building directions. The opportunity given to us in this project is the freedom to have a original idea and follow it through with no negative repercussions. We weren’t forced to follow a certain guideline, we were given a tool box and some scrap material and the things we are able to create when left alone with no certain procedure bypass anything I thought I was capable of.

The first big step in this project was discovering a simple way to generate electricity and this problem was answered with something called Electromagnetic Induction (Induction is energy produced my a conductor when it crosses the path of a magnetic field). Induction was an idea introduced to us in the start of this project by Sue. As FullSizeRendera class we talked about induction for a few periods but I remained completely puzzled to how it worked until one nights research generated a simple explanation and example of electromagnetic induction. Finding the link just as informative as me Sue assigned each of the groups to construct a small version of the simpler generator shown in the link. This mini pre-project was helpful in that I was able to see Electromagnetic Induction work in the flesh and I became confident enough to begin our main project. This quick build led us to the importance of the formula E = Blv. E is the variable for Electromagnetic Force, B – magnetic flux density, l – the length of the conductor cutting the field, v – the speed at which the conductor cuts the field. We needed to learn these variables in order to build our generator in the most efficient way possible.

Our idea sprouted from the skateboard truck we were given to use. We had a metal rotor that was perfect to attach magnets to and set up a piece of cardboard behind to hold the coils, thus producing energy via induction. As opposed to direct current (DC) which delivers a constant flow of voltage our generator can be described as an alternating current (AC) which produces a fluctuation of voltage flow. Because induction produces energy when the copper wire coil passes through the magnetic field is has bursts of voltage instead of a constFullSizeRender-1ant current. Magnetic fields are created in the space between the north pole of the magnet and the south pole of the magnet. Knowing this we attempted to place the magnets so every magnets was placed with the opposite pole up to the one beside it. We have attached coils in different variations to be used as conductors and attached the coils in different ways to find out which connection is the strongest and can produce the most energy. This link that Sue showed us taught us that the amount of times the copper wire is coiled and how tight it’s coiled is very important to how well the coil conducts energy. We learned, through process of elimination and a lot of time playing with wire connections, the two wires that made the most energy when connected together and sketched out a wire map to remember the layout. The experiments also led us to realize that our magnets were not lined up correctly and had to be realigned so the opposite pole was facing up for every other magnet around the circle. Through these experiments we learned the importance of constant testing throughout the building process to prevent us from building on something that doesn’t work in the first place.

To make our generator run we have chosen wind power and used the rotor blades from our recent  kit proFullSizeRender-2jects. UIMG_2611sing a fan as our power source we were only able to generate .021 Volts which is ultimately useless. However, using manual force to spin our rotor we were able to generate up to .812 Volts which shows us that our generator is capable of generating that much and that we just need to learn how to use wind to power the generator at it’s highest capacity. From these experiments we learned that we need to create rotor blades that use the wind more efficiently. As a group we will have to toy around with the blades we are using and how they are attached in order to have a generator that produces enough energy to be relevant. Our group could benefit from more research into efficient wind turbine blades. We have put ourselves on a good course for success however it’s necessary keep learning and researching to build  our wind turbine efficiently and effectively.

Dismantling in the name of knowledge

FullSizeRender-2Today in Climate Science class my group was handed a perfectly functioning electronic pencil sharpener, then given Sue’s blessing to rip it apart so obviously it was a fun day. However, we wouldn’t destroy something for no reason. The logic behind this was to find a working generator we could use for our upcoming windmill projects. When we took the sharpener apart fully we discovered something that looked like a generator that sat in a cylindrical opening just a tiny bit larger than itself. I was puzzled by this at first and just assumed it was an ordinary generator until Sue came to the realization that it was and electromagnetic motor being run by pulsating currents in the base it rested in. Though this was a really cool discovery it wasn’t something that could benefit us during our windmill project. Even though we didn’t get anything physical to use for our project being able to deconstruct and reconstruct the sharpener was empowering and fun.


Learning through mistakes and success

Our TeaScreen Shot 2015-04-13 at 9.21.45 PMm had a slightly different experience with our model wind power kit than the other groups. Our biggest problem was the lack of directions our kit came with, which became the root of many of our problems. The directions were short, unclear and showed us many different experiments. This led to us half building things and having to take them apart and rebuild only to have to do it again. Because of our inadequate directions we were forced to work together as a group to find a solution to our kit. We did some online research and found a video that showed us step by step how to construct our windmill.

After we were finally able to engineer our kit we ran into a few components of construct that needed adjusting. Gears were the first issuFullSizeRender-1e we ran into. As a result of our complex gearing system it was easy to offset on gear and have it result in the whole machine ceasing to work. Gears are important because they can increase speed or force and change the direction that it is spinning. Having a gear system begin with a large gear will  give you more speed because every turn of the big gear is 3 or 4 turns of the smaller gear. On the other hand, starting a gear system with a small wheel will give you more power because even though one spin of a small gear is about 1/4 of a spin on a big gear it takes more force to spin. Because we don’t have access to high speed wind, just some room fans, our gear system begins with a large gear that turns a smaller gear. When we thought we had finished building and began testing we realized the gears weren’t lining up properly and gears need to lock into each other to turn. We were able to but spacers one the gear rods to keep them pressed up to each other so they could efficiently turn. This is the roadblock in our project that led to us having a better understanding of gears.

The next brainstorm session we had to have as a group revolved around the Bernoulli effect which wFullSizeRender-2as something we had to consider because of the response our fan had to it. The Bernoulli effect is enacted when a gas or liquid is flowing against a teardrop like shape. Air pressure above the shape dIMG_3377ecreases while the air pressure below increases forcing the object up. This effect forces the fan on a windmill to spin more efficiently. We needed to make a fan that was able to spin fast enough to power our LED light even though we were using a measly room fan. Our first realization was that the hard plastic blades were too heavy for the fan so we made the switch to the thin plastic blades we had tried earlier. Those worked a lot better but still not enough to  power the LED. In the end after a lot of fiddling we realized our fan worked best with the other teams gear system and vice versa.


The lesson in this project besides learning more about energy sources was working with a group and thinking outside the box. We had to think outside the box and beyond the directions to figure out how to construct our kit and then again to reScreen Shot 2015-04-15 at 9.00.16 PMalize that a mashup of our kits was the answer.  The special thing about a hands on project is that you are learning without even realizing it. Being hands on keeps you more involved in the project and forces you to participate. I really enjoyed learning through working hands on and hope other students get to experience this opportunity too.

Starting Our Wind Power Model

Climate Science class on Friday revolved around our energy models. We got into our group and began building. As soon as we began we were faced with our first decision: A soft filmy plasIMG_3329tic for our windmill panels or a hard plastic. We chose the lighter thin plastic thinking it would be eaIMG_3330sier to move with the wind however when we started building the plastic was hard to put together and was taking a lot of time. We had to take a second and talk as a team to help make the decision to switch to the hard plastic. These were a lot easier to construct and we completed the windmill fan in little time.

IMG_3332Once we finished the fan we moved on to the frame of the windmill. This posed a challenge for us when we  realized the directions were very unclear. So to solve this problem we had two team members working together to decipher the pictures from the directions. Then we instructed the third member on how to begin building the frame. With limited time left in the block we didn’t get too far but we did figure some important directions out. We packed everything up are excited to work to finish the frame the next time we meet.

Exploring Wind Power

unnamedOur first endeavor in learning through hands on experiences is constructing an experimental wind turbine kit. Our goal is to not only research how wind power works but to have a small scale version to give us a better real life understanding of the concept. Hopefully the hands on theme of the project keeps the group more focused and enthusiastic. From taking two terms of Climate Science, a class with a very hands on approach, I have learned that I am not only able to tolerate class projects but I enjoy them and end up learning more as a result of a raised interest level. I truly believe my group will have fun building the model and learning through this new experience.