Perry Hall High seniors hope project gives them place in sun

Engineering students build solar-powered device to check water quality

December 01, 2003|By David Anderson | David Anderson,SUN STAFF

Right now, it's just a cardboard model. But by spring, advanced engineering students at Perry Hall High School hope to have the real thing -- a solar-powered box outfitted with special sensors -- measuring water quality in Baltimore's Inner Harbor.

The students are using a $4,100 grant from the Lemelson-MIT Program -- a joint effort of the Oregon-based Lemelson Foundation and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology -- to develop the device.

The students presented the model to their four-person advisory board recently. Board members -- a state senator, an engineering company president, an MIT representative and a county Board of Education member -- asked questions.

Although they were pleased with the students' work, the board members encouraged them to think beyond getting the device to work and to consider its role in the community and how to publicize it.

"This is really common with engineers," said Ronald Rye, president of Wilson T. Ballard Co., one of the largest engineering firms in Maryland. "We're great at building things and making them work, but communication is a very important part of what we do."

The 23 Perry Hall seniors have been planning this project since the spring, when their teacher, Michael McIntyre, applied for a Lemelson-MIT InvenTeams grant.

"Our main goal is to encourage inventiveness in students and get them to think outside their standard curriculum," said Joshua Schuler, grants officer for the InvenTeams' program.

The students were notified Oct. 16 that they had won the grant. Last week, they displayed a cardboard model of a sealed box, which McIntyre said will be made of 2-inch-thick plastic foam and house an electronic recording device. Sensors will dangle in the water and feed data such as temperature, salinity and nitrate levels to the recorder, which will run on a solar-powered battery. The solar panel will sit on top of the box.

McIntyre said the students plan to float the device in the Inner Harbor off the Museum of Industry's pier. The data will be posted on the museum's Web site, where students can see graphs measuring the health of the water. The device may be used to gather data on water quality in the Chesapeake Bay.

McIntyre said the Inner Harbor is ideal because it is secure and will allow the students to leave the device in place overnight. McIntyre hopes to keep it in the water for a month.

"It's got to be someplace, so if we can keep it in the water, keep it taking samples, we can learn more," McIntyre said.

McIntyre serves as an adviser and coordinator, while the students are responsible for planning and building the device. Two students, Jaime Bogardy and Bria Hiebert-Crape, are team leaders.

"It's been a lot of hard work," said Bogardy, 17. "In my opinion, it's been more organizing and coordinating than building."

McIntyre plans to have the device in the water by March, when students will run preliminary tests. He, Bogardy and Hiebert-Crape will travel to MIT in June to make their final presentation.

"We do a lot of difficult competitions, but this is one of the tougher ones," McIntyre said. "You've got to get something that's really challenging for the top kids."

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