FLAGSTAFF, AZ - How do you teach students the costs of being constantly plugged in and where their power comes from? Make them earn the electricity with their legs.
Recent NAU environmental engineering graduate Marilla Lamb and a group of other engineering students had been struggling to teach school kids about complex physics concepts in the classroom. As part of the Wind for Schools program, she was going into classrooms and trying to explain things like energy, work and electricity.
"We were standing up in front of students giving textbook definitions," Lamb said. "The students' eyes were glazing over."
With help from a local school teacher, they came up with the idea to harness the power of a bicycle and turn pedal power into real electricity. Together with NAU students from the computer sciences and engineering programs, Lamb helped spearhead a program to design bicycle generators that could do things like power a blender.
"We wanted to get rid of this idea that electricity is just this magical thing that comes out of the wall," she said.
NAU's Green Fund gave the students a $2,900 grant to build a handful of the generators, which were then taken to classrooms. They even gave out smoothie samples on campus with a student on the bike nearby pedaling away.
In the engineering building, Lamb and the other students also designed a permanent bike by making use of a donated bicycle from the school's yellow bike program. Electrical and mechanical engineering students designed and built the enhanced bike and students working in the machine shop welded up the necessary structural components.
The permanent bike has a charging station where students can plug in cell phones and other small electronics to get some exercise and a little electrical juice during the school day. The catch: They have to do the pedaling themselves.
Lamb says the bike is very popular while school is in session in spite of the amount of work it takes just to charge a cellphone.
The group hopes to cycle the bike around campus through various buildings to help show students how much electricity they use.