For most American teenagers, summer vacation is a time to make some pocket money, go to the beach, and hang out with friends. But, for twenty high school students from DaVinci Charter Academy in Davis, CA., summer vacation meant a trip to Nicaragua to share their pedal-powered blender.
The idea for the blender was proposed during a visit from the director of Grupo Fenix, a Nicaraguan organization dedicated to the research, development, and application of renewable energy technologies in Nicaragua. The opportunity to engage students in using physics to solve real-world problems and get them thinking about how different cultures capture and use energy, were the perfect ingredients for a physics project!
Over eight months, Team Blend worked on this engineering challenge to design a reliable, inexpensive, human-powered blender from parts that could be sourced locally in Nicaragua. The group faced electrical and mechanical engineering challenges but by June, the team was ready to pack up their blender parts and head to Nicaragua.
Their journey took them to a village in Totogalpa, Nicaragua, the second poorest municipality in the nation. During their eleven-day, the team worked with a group of local high-school students called Young Scientists (Jovenes Constuctores), as well as solar-energy activists. Together, they overcame some design challenges as they constructed two human-powered bike blenders from scratch. But, by the end of their stay, the Nicaraguan community had blenders for a newly constructed solar restaurant, La Casita Solar, which relies completely on renewable energy sources.
Team Blend used social media to promote their project and raise funds to send eight members of the team to Nicaragua on scholarships. They also developed instructional videos posted on their Web site.
At DaVinci Charter Academy, technology is infused in all aspects of student life. Students use laptop computers; take online courses; and access their grades, calendar, and materials online. “Not only do we get to explore the exciting world of academic with our friends, but we get to hyperspeed through knowledge and streamline tunes in super comfortable chairs, with our three important staples a latte, an i-pod, and a laptop,” explains one student.