Building their own wind turbines, New England Girls’ School, the Presbyterian Ladies’ College and Armidale High School students became engineers on Tuesday, November 22.
The challenge came from humanitarian organisation Engineers Without Borders, which endeavours to teach Australian children about how engineering can help improve sanitation and living conditions overseas. The group spent last week travelling to schools around Armidale, Tamworth, Inverell and the surrounding areas.
Students at Armidale High tested who could design the most efficient wind turbine blades. They each attached a cork to a mini motor covered with LED lights. The faster the spins, the more lights they turned on.
University of New South Wales (UNSW) engineering student Nick Henry taught the year nine and 10 students and said that although it could be difficult to engage them during the presentation, once the activity began, they were “super keen”.
“Even the kids that are a bit too cool for school, they get right into it and often their designs are the best,” he said.
In some schools, students were given a ration of balloons, cups, straws and cardboard to create their own ‘floating houses’, designed to carry as many marbles as possible – reminiscent of floating houses in Cambodia.
Nick and fellow volunteer Guy Baumber acted as shop owners for the Inverell Public School students, who could only ‘buy’ five units of materials, mimicking real world limitations in humanitarian projects.
“(We’re) teaching them about how different cultures don’t have access to certain materials, how different countries build different houses. Just thinking about why other cultures do things differently to us,” Nick said.
Guy agreed and said it was important for humanitarian organisations to understand the culture and limitations of the countries they visited.
“Engineers Without Borders is trying to emphasise appropriate technology - so using technology that’s appropriate for the different communities basically, rather than implementing our own ideas and values on them,” he said.
Along with overseas commitments and their research with UNSW and the University of Sydney, Engineers Without Borders also visit remote Indigenous communities in Australia.
“It’s not a fast process where you come in and just build stuff,” Nick said, explaining that many different factors, including the opinions of elders are taken into account before designing any solutions.