Make a pinwheel to see how a very basic turbine works, and then use it to create electricity! If you don't have the electrical components, you can still do the first part of this project to see how wind can create mechanical force.
>> Use this pinwheel pattern (PDF) to build your turbine.
What You Need:
Part 1 - Pinwheel
Part 2 - Generator
When you attached the motor to the pinwheel and put it in front of the fan, you transformed the motor into a generator, which converts mechanical force (the spinning of the pinwheel) to electricity. It does this with the help of a magnet inside the motor. When you connected the wires of the motor to the light bulb, you made a complete electrical circuit, allowing the electricity to flow from the motor through the bulb and back again.
One way to measure power is in volts. A volt measures the amount of electricity flowing through a circuit. The faster a generator spins, the more volts it will produce. With our simple wind turbine, a smaller pinwheel will produce more volts because it can spin faster. To fully power the bulb, your turbine would need to produce 1.5 volts. If the bulb just glows dimly, it means the turbine is producing less than 1.5 volts.
Real wind turbines have very large blades, so they have gear boxes that increase the rotational speed (how fast the shaft spins). For example, the main shaft might turn only 22 times per minute, but the gears in the gearbox can use that power to make a smaller shaft turn up to 1500 times per minute, creating a lot more voltage!
If you have a digital multimeter, you can measure the amount of voltage and current (amps) produced by your mini turbine. Experiment with larger or smaller pinwheels, or make individual blades like a modern wind turbine. Which design can produce the most voltage? Which produces the most amperage? When would you want more amps and when would you want more volts? What size of pinwheel causes the light bulb to glow the brightest? Can you use your turbine to power another motor? To lift weights?