Wednesday, November 09, 2005

EXCITING! NEW! CUTTING EDGE!

All right...I'm not exactly living up to my title...but I did realize that my latest three posts have been mere sentences. How embarrassing! (I once knew someone who referred to nearly every abrasive interpersonal situation as embarrasing. I do not do so. Most embarrassing situations include me and...myself...) I will attempt to rectify this by writing about my thesis project (as if I haven't gotten to do enough of that recently):

The goal: study methods of extracting power from ocean tidal currents in order to ultimately improve efficiency of turbine design.

Sounds easy enough, right? Ha...while I was trying my darndest to turn my despised aerospace engineering major into something that I care about (volcanoes and literature weren't quite so feasible as sustainable energy, in this case), I inadvertendly stumbled onto one hell of a complex and interesting problem.

Harnessing power from tidal currents in the ocean using turbines is exactly like harnessing power from wind using windmills...only underwater. My illustrious (ok, so that's probably not the most accurate adjective) partner and I are focussing on buoyed tethered turbines. They float but are anchored to the bottom of the ocean via a leash so that they can pivot according to the changing direction of tidal flows. We are studying whether it is more efficient, in terms of extracting power from a flow, to position the rotors (blades that spin round and round...I know not all of you are engineers) upstream or downstream of the buoy (which contains all the electronic and mechanical equipment to convert the spinning axis of the rotor into electrical power). Yes, I know a picture would help immensely. I wish I could doodle diagrams for you in this blog. If any of you are truly interested I can send you a link to my intermediate proposal (which has crude hand-drawn visual aids...yes!).

We are testing this in one of MIT's water flow tanks. That means we have to actually design and build some buoyed water turbines. What did I get myself into? Despite three and a half years of engineering training, I don't feel like I could build anything! I'm more than a little overwhelmed, and the nature of the class has been forcing me to focus on communicative aspects of the project (like the oral presentation I have to give on Thursday) rather than the nitty-gritty nuts and bolts (and generators, and gear boxes, and propellors, and buoyant materials) of the experimental design.

But I should just trust in the system, right? It will all fall together in the end, right?

I hope so. I'll keep you updated. But until then, here is an interesting link on tidal power: http://www.bwea.com/marine/index.html

Sorry this post hasn't been that enthusiastic. It's not because I'm not enthusiastic about my project (you should have seen the first draft of the introduction I wrote...I blabbed on and on about how important sustainable energy is, and how cool tidal power is, and the writing instructor told me "Wow, you've written very eloquently and your passion for the topic shines through...now delete it!"), it's just that it's 2:21 am and I told my friend I would meet her at 8 am to go running. What was I thinking?

My life is about to be consumed by a bouquet of research projects. Luckily I'm excited about each and every one of them (though some more than others...).

2 comments:

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