Eight students from Coral Park Senior High School huddled together, a question hanging in the air: Would the model building they created withstand 50 mph winds produced by FIU’s Wall of Wind (WoW)?
Each year, the WoW Challenge invites local high school students to build scale model structures that test their engineering skills against the WoW – a hurricane research facility at FIU’s Engineering Center with fans capable of generating 150-mph winds and category five hurricane conditions. The WoW is one of eight Natural Hazards Engineering Research Infrastructure (NHERI) Experimental Facilities nationwide, designated by the National Science Foundation (NSF) to research the impacts of earthquake, wind and water hazards. WoW’s research focuses on wind effects on infrastructure and how to prevent these wind events from becoming community disasters.
The WoW Challenge is hosted by the International Hurricane Research Center – housed within FIU’s Extreme Events Institute – and is supported by a grant from the Florida Division of Emergency Management.
This year’s challenge was to create an aerodynamic building model at least 32 inches high and 8 inches wide that could withstand winds of 50 mph or higher. Students also completed a technical paper and an oral presentation about their design.
Six schools participated in the competition.
Coral Park students built a 40-pound cylinder-shaped structure made of cardboard and solid materials.
It was the only model in the competition that sustained winds of a category one hurricane (at least 74 mph) – earning the team first place, with a ten-point lead over the second-highest placing team.
The Florida Christian School team – who won second place — designed a blue, pink and white colored tower made of cardboard and plastic. They named the structure Katy Perry.
According to several students, every time they would see “her” wobble while conducting wind resistance tests, they would go “ah—ah—ah” like in Perry’s song “Firework.” The name stuck.
So did the desire to become an engineer.
“I’d like to build for cities,” said Bryan Momin, a 16-year-old junior at Florida Christian. “Engineering is a way to be creative while solving real world problems.”
The competition also helped aspiring engineers, like Coral Park senior Sergio Echevarria, learn about new career paths and appreciate different areas within engineering.
“I want to study civil engineering to build bridges,” he said. “But I really liked this [wind engineering] project.”
Wind engineering estimates the effects of winds in the natural and built environment – and how structures test against strong winds.
“The whole purpose of this kind of thing is to bring young people in to learn about wind engineering,” said Arindam Chowdhury, director of the Laboratory for Wind Engineering Research and professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, part of the College of Engineering and Computing.
“The Wall of Wind Challenge is how we get the next generation of scientists and engineers involved,” said Richard Olson, director of the Extreme Events Institute and professor in the Department of Politics and International Relations, which is housed in the Steven J. Green School of International and Public Affairs.
He added: “Without the next wave of young people, fields do not prosper, research does not continue. Being in the Wall of Wind Challenge often changes the students’ career mentality.”
Olson said he often meets FIU students researching how to mitigate hazards or studying engineering, and they remember they got interested in the topic as high school students attending the WoW Challenge.
“They will point across the other side of the engineering campus, and say I did the WoW Challenge when I was in high school, that’s why I’m here.”
The top three teams – Coral Park, Florida Christian and Booker T. Washington High School – received cash prizes and a one-of-a-kind trophy, featuring bronze wind turbines inside a framed case.
“This [experience] is something they will remember for the rest of their lives,” said Erik Salna, associate director of the International Hurricane Research Center.
-By Maria Gil