Middle school-aged kids clustered around a machine at UAA’s new Engineering & Industry Building, peering at a tiny model of a plane perched inside a clear chamber. A mist unfurled from a wand held up to a screen on the side of the Hampden wind tunnel, and streamed smoothly around the plane as the kids’ instructor asked questions.
“You want to try an even larger angle of attack?” UAA’s Dr. Jifeng Peng said, pressing buttons on a control pad of a state-of-the-art wind tunnel during last summer’s engineering academy course on wing aerodynamics. The miniature plane tilted to a steeper angle and the mist’s movement appeared choppy. “Now you can see the [mist], visualize the air flow, right?”
“It’s going over,” a boy said. “It’s not going under, though,” said another student. “Can somebody tell me the difference between the air flow now and the air flow before?” Peng asked. “It’s going to stall,” a girl said. “Yes, it’s going to stall,” Peng said. “You can see the air becomes unsteady off the wing, so it’s become circular.” He gestured toward a gap in the mist. “That’s basically the flow separation over there. Before, the air moved around the airfoil very nicely, very smoothly. The air does not stay on the wing anymore.”
Peng’s academy on wing aerodynamics is the newest offering in UAA’s Summer Engineering Academies, which BP has steadfastly supported for five years. UAA’s Dr. Scott Hamel directs the program.
The series of weeklong hands-on instructional sessions—including robotics, structure destruction, alternative energy, wing aerodynamics and creative coding—was designed to encourage STEM interests and exposure for students entering grades 5 through 12.
UAA faculty devised the sessions, which give students a sampling of programs in UAA’s College of Engineering—including civil engineering, geomatics, electrical engineering, mechanical engineering and computer science.
In addition to wing aerodynamics, the courses included advanced structures, structure destruction (bridge engineering), robotics, creative coding and alternative energy. Peng’s course focused on kids in grades 6-8, but other courses were available for kids in grades 9-12. A lottery determined which students filled the 440 spots.
BP is the sole sponsor of this dynamic program, which provides unprecedented access to the variety of engineering fields.
“Our purpose is exposure,” Hamel said. “It’s our job to take kids who haven’t been exposed to science and engineering and say, ‘Hey, here’s engineering. It’s fun!’ That’s our primary objective.”
The kids participating in Peng’s wing aerodynamics session first learned the basics about wind tunnels when they fashioned their own.
Box fans directed air into a cardboard-and-clear-tape intake, through a flow generator consisting of a honeycomb of glued-together plastic straws and into a test chamber with a clear plastic viewing window. They used the wind tunnels to experiment with airfoils and plane models they made themselves, attaching their planes and airfoils to small scales to measure lift.
Computers helped them shape airfoils; a 3-D printer made them real.
Shelby Mattingly, Rosie Jines and Brooke Dittlinger, 11, worked together on their wind tunnel project, at the Student Union.
What will it be like the next time they board a plane, knowing more about how a plane’s wings and their shape make it possible to fly?
“I learned about the lift and the thrust and drag and how the air moves over the wings,” Brooke said.
“Over and under the wings to make them go up and down,” Shelby continued. “And how the thrust goes against the drag and the lift goes against gravity.”
“It will be interesting thinking about it,” Brooke said.