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St Rose Student Creates Solar Updraft Tower

One of the St Rose of Lima School students who will attend the Connecticut Science & Engineering Fair next week created a Solar Updraft tower for her project.

Eighth grader Grace Herrick started researching her project over the summer, and when the time came to submit her project for approval, she was nearly ready.

All she needed was to build a model of a solar updraft tower power plant, and materials, and space, and time. In the end Grace found all of those things, and had chronicled her adventure in building a model for sustainable energy that she says can be applied to help provide third-world countries with electricity.

Following St Rose’s science fair, eight students were chosen to attend the state level of the science fair: Lauren Cirone, Maria Ringes, Laura Russell, Nicole Palmieri, Stephanie Maurina, Francesca Kerekes-Norko, Victoria Gugliotti, and Grace.

Last year Grace was one of a number of Newtown students named finalists in the 65th Annual Connecticut Science & Engineering Fair. Her project, “The Investigation of the Presence of Caffeine in Groundwater and Sewage,” earned her multiple awards.

This year, Grace said she wanted to think of something “bigger.” Maintaining a focus on things that could help the planet, Grace said she thought of renewable energy.

Grace has also submitted her research proposal to MIT’s Clean Energy Conference.

She looked into hydropower and other options for renewable energy, but noted that some third-world countries do not have access to water. After starting to look into solar power, Grace found a video on YouTube of a solar updraft tower being built in Spain.

“I thought I could recreate one,” said Grace, “just to experiment with it and see if this could be helpful for third-world countries.”

Grace said she sees access to electricity as a basic human right, and believes everyone should have access to it.

“It’s a form of sustainable energy, it doesn’t emit greenhouse gases, it doesn’t require water to work, and it’s not very expensive,” said Grace.

The main part of a solar updraft tower, the turbine, requires the most amount of money, according to Grace. For the other two parts of the tower, the collector and the stack, can be fashioned from glass, plastic, or piping.

Grace’s model had a 7.1-meter-tall (23 feet, 4 inches) stack, and the base of it was 100 square meters (about 328 square feet). At first Grace looked at building her tower in her backyard, but she needed as much access to light as possible. The project was eventually created in her front yard, beginning last fall, where neighbors started taking notice.

Some of her neighbors offered to help assembling the project, and became an integral part of her project, offering power tools to which Grace would not otherwise have had access.

 It took three days to build the tower, which stayed up until just before the February 8 snowstorm. Maintaining the tower also required Grace to clean off accumulated snow regularly when it snowed, and she went through four fans before she found the perfect fan, a computer fan.

At Halloween Grace said children walked by the tower thinking it was something from space.

While Grace found her tower had the potential to produce 36.6 watts of energy on a perfect day, she said it is only a fraction of what a larger, real-sized, solar updraft tower can produce.

“I think science fairs are really important for kids because it lets them express their ideas about what they want to do,” said Grace.

When students put ideas out there, Grace said they are showing what they believe in and what they want to do.

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