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Wind me up: hands-on energy lab

I like to develop hands-on “labs” where students can try things out. An example is the biomimicry lab. It involves simple things like carrots, pine cones, and soap bubbles, but it makes some of the principles of biomimicry easy to see and understand (and it’s described in my teaching guide which you can download freely).

My next lab is definitely going to be wind up power and I think these images will show you why:

chair with wind-up USB charger
Taiwanese Pega D&E showed this Windup chair with USB charger at the 2012 Milan furniture fair

chair with wind-up USB charger in use


Wind up-powered products arguably came to popularity with the freeplay radio in the early 1990s and since then flashlights, chargers and lanterns have been designed.

In my biomimicry lab there were a series of stations that students rotated through. In my windup lab I would have a series of stations as well, but I’d start with everyone getting their hands on a simple windup device (possibly toys) to be studied from the inside out. This would be accompanied by an introduction on how it works, including conversion to electricity. From there my stations might include:

1. a few more complex wind up mechanisms, such as the freeplay radio shown below, with working parts exposed. Students might diagram these in terms of how they work.

An older verion of the freeplay radio

2.  wind up mechanisms available for students to hack together very basic windup chargers.

3. a “science” station where various level of power are examined in relation to how much power can be gained from windup mechanisms. For example there might be a hair dryer, a radio, a mobile phone, a hand blender and an electric mixer. The idea would be to explore how much power is generated by different windup configurations and which variables you can affect through design.

4. a “global” station that brings examples from the developing world showing the particular relevance of windup to that context (ideally this might be a 10 minute video that students watch)

4. brainstorming station where students explore where windup technology might go next –particularly in their own country contexts–and consider some of the strengths and weaknesses of different applications.

Would this kind of lab work for you students? If this kit were available to borrow or buy, would you be interested?





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