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Students focus on wind turbines during STEM competition

Posted March 18

— High school students across North Jersey went green in more ways than one on St. Patrick's Day by competing to create the most efficient wind turbine.

Paramus High School hosted a STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) competition as part of the New Jersey STEM League on Friday. It was the first time Paramus had hosted a competition for the league, which was created three years ago.

Michael Pilacik, a STEM supervisor from Paramus High School, said "green" energy was chosen as the theme of the competition, not only to create a tie-in with the holiday, but to allow students to explore their interest in renewable energy.

"You have to identify something that's vivid and meaningful to the kids," Pilacik told The Record (https://njersy.co/2mDpWRw). "This generation of students we're dealing with now, they're very much in tune with environmental issues and ecological issues."

Each school had two teams of five students each. The teams put their engineering skills to the test by using computer-aided drafting (CAD, for short) to create a scheme drawing of a wind turbine. They did a physics experiment to serve as a model for their actual turbine, then built a product based on their drawing, said Pilacik. The turbines were then tested with wind from electric fans to see which ones produced the most electricity.

"It's the old-fashioned scientific method of problem solving," Pilaci said. "The students don't know what the problem is when they walk through the door."

A week before the competition, students got a clue to mull over: "Don't be green with envy when you see what we have planned today, we want you to be energized; it's electric," said Trish Collister, a STEM supervisor and engineering teacher, who coordinated the event.

Students are scored not only on whether their turbine is able to create the most energy, but on their public speaking skills and ability to explain their design, said Collister.

Juliana Gaitan, a senior and president of the STEM Club at Paramus High School, said her team decided to use six thin blades for their turbine to achieve high voltage.

"You have to work a lot with your team, and I feel that's really important," said Gaitan. "You have to build trust with other people and establish different things. Even if you don't win, it's a fun experience."

John Greenwald, a senior from Waldwick High School, said taking part in the competition will help him adapt to situations he may encounter as an engineering major in college.

"It helps with problem-solving skills and what you can do in a real-life scenario," Greenwald said.

The STEM competition also gives students a chance to shine in the areas of engineering they find most enjoyable, said Adam Brunner, a STEM club adviser and tech teacher at Northern Valley Regional High School at Demarest.

"If you have someone that loves the writing aspect, or CAD, it's a good opportunity to see everyone work together and flourish as individuals," Brunner said.

Matthew Fox, a Ramsey High School junior, said his team decided to "divide and conquer" in order to get the best results, working to create the best curve for their three turbine blades.

"We've done a bunch of competitions in the past, but this has been my favorite because it was a lot more open-ended," Fox said.

Pilacik said the Paramus district had talked since September about holding a STEM competition on campus. The district received support from the mayor and council, who helped connect them with sponsors for the event.

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