Students get hands-on tour of how engineering leads to wind turbines, composites, pulp and paper, and more

Left to right,  Makaelyn Porter, Wyatt Nadeau, Dr. Sara Walton (UMaine), Kristen Fitzherbert (teacher), Breyauna Jacobs, and Lori Woodcock. The students and teacher are from Katahdin HS/Southern Aroostook schools.

By Pat Maloney, Project Learning Tree Maine Coordinator

This winter, I had a conversation with Roberta Scruggs, MFPC communications director, about new forest products and about the “world-leading, interdisciplinary center for research, education, and economic development encompassing material sciences, manufacturing, and the engineering of composites and structures” at the University of Maine’s Advanced Structures and Composites Center. Hearing Roberta’s enthusiasm for the work at the university’s composite labs led to the realization that Project Learning Tree (PLT) could plan a visit for a couple of northern Maine schools to tour the composites center.

We often hear that students in northern Maine may no longer see job opportunities in the forests, with wood and with wood products. If that’s true, it may be because students don’t heard about the wind turbines, bridges, composites, pulp and paper, health and engineering research. Fortunately the PLT statewide network includes outstanding teachers who seek to bring the best of Maine to their students. So two science teachers, Susan Linscott, Lee Academy, and Rowena Harvey, Katahdin High School and Southern Aroostook Community School, took up the invitation for students to tour the labs.

On April 25, about 40 students explored the pulp and paper lab and experienced hands-on paper making experiments led by Dr. Sara Walton, lecturer in Chemical Engineering. They also examined mechanical limbs designed by UMaine students and learned about the importance of team work when designing new products. Teams may include students from various departments such as Human Dimensions of Climate Change, Graphic Design, Computing and Information Science and the English Department.

Dr. Bob Bowie, lecturer in the Chemical and Biomedical Engineering Department, introduced the group to the development of cameras and medical equipment attached to drones! UMaine students have engineered products and cameras that can locate a missing person in a remote area and send information about the person’s heart, temperature, and other bodily functions back to a medical team. A helicopter team with essential information about the person’s condition is then dispatched to the exact location. 

How are wind turbines designed, built and engineered to last? The composite lab has on-going experiments and has “completed static strength testing of a 184-foot wind turbine.” The University of Maine team has been recognized for its testing quality, safety and attention to detail. Just imagine all the factors that must be explored, designed and developed in order to produce the best product.

Wind mills in the ocean? The Composite Lab has a water tank that tests for wave action both for wind turbines and for ships. Students heard about the enormous work that goes into design and experimentation. They learned how creative and challenging the life of an engineering student can be and how the impacts of their work may contribute to social and physical changes around the globe.

Dr. Bashir Khoda, assistant professor of Mechanical Engineering, leads the Digital Manufacturing (DM) research laboratory at UMaine. He has developed and conducts the activity “3D printing – the future’’ with the help of Brandon Johnstone, a first-year mechanical engineering undergraduate student from Waterboro, ME. The objective of this activity is to encourage students towards STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math) field and prepare them for success as they enter the future workforce. This activity is the winner of America Makes Innovation Sprint: Additive Manufacturing Curricula Challenge, 2017.

Dr. Lisa Weeks demonstrates a mechanical hand to Delaney Smart, Alexis DeLaite, and Susanna Owens, students at Lee Academy.

According to Khoda, 3D printing (3DP) or Additive Manufacturing (AM) processes are at the core of next generation of manufacturing techniques. This tool-less processes use incremental consolidation of feed-stock materials (polymeric, ceramic and metallic) in their various forms (liquid, powder, wire and derivatives) directly from the digitized model. The AM process permits the construction of any shape and architecture that can’t be done with traditional manufacturing processes. As a result, AM has the potential for reviving the community innovations as well as accelerate the domestic manufacturing competitiveness and hence the overall economy.

One group of students visited the mechanical engineering department where students enjoyed completing a hands-on design challenge with the mechanical engineering department, touring the physics labs, and having the opportunity to view the electron microscope.  Dr. Khoda and Dr. Lisa Weeks, a lecturer in Biomedical Engineering, gave dynamic presentations and students came away from the tour excited about engineering.”

If you are left with lots of questions about composites and all of the engineering disciplines at the University of Maine, checking out

With sincere thanks to many who made the tours possible: Huber Resources, Susan Linscott, Rowena Harvey, Sheila Pendse, the Maine TREE Foundation, tour guides at each of three lab sites that students visited and to Roberta Scruggs for her love of research into new forest products.