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Saturday, 5 January 2013

Building a better machine: Students use creativity to improve the heat engine

Jan 4, 2012

When Roman Berens signed up for the “Physics and Applied Physics Research Freshman” Seminar, he wasn’t sure what to expect.

“Initially, I really had no idea what it was about,” he said. “But I’m majoring in physics, so I thought having lab experience would be really valuable.”

Berens and other freshmen in the seminar discussed their research at a presentation at the Rowland Institute on Dec. 12. Using a handmade, laboratory-scale, Sterling heat engine, the team of students was able to generate enough electricity to power several light-emitting diodes, or LEDs, and a laptop computer.

“I’m amazed and invigorated by what our freshmen are capable of,” said Jene Golovchenko, Rumford Professor of Physics and Gordon McKay Professor of Applied Physics, and professor to the freshman seminar. “This year’s class has a wonderful collection of students who were admitted by interview to assure they were ready to take advantage of the high level of support provided them by the Rowland Institute. They are all prime candidates to concentrate in either in physics or SEAS,” the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.

The seminar challenged students to study and improve upon the Sterling heat engine constructed by last year’s seminar students. Participants were tasked to improve on the existing model, turning it into a scientific instrument — embodying the laws of classical mechanics and thermodynamics.
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