New York City - Students Concept: A Wind Turbine Menorah

Published on: December 10th, 2009 at 03:54 PM

New York City - Someone, somewhere, will probably chuckle to hear about Raffi Holzer and Mark Stauber’s three-part invention for Hanukkah, which begins at sundown on Friday: A wind-powered menorah.

Mr. Holzer and Mr. Stauber, two physics students at Yeshiva University, are serious. And, really, all they did was figure out was how to apply — on a very small scale — concepts that could be applied to large chunks of the power grid.

Their menorah is four feet wide and four feet tall, made of plastic and spray-painted gold. The lights are nine compact fluorescent bulbs. A cable connects them to a car battery. Another cable connects the battery to a wind turbine with a two-foot propeller.

The next part, the how-it-works explanation, sounds like “The Music Goes Round and Round,” except that what comes out is not sound but light. The propeller turns a generator that generates current to charge the batteries. They provide a constant current and voltage to the compact fluorescent bulbs, which give more light on less power than incandescent bulbs.

Mr. Holzer said he had been casting about for a project with “some kind of practical engineering experience.” Mr. Stauber found the inspiration right there on Yeshiva’s men’s campus in Washington Heights. “Going back and forth from my dorm every day, there are wind tunnels between the buildings,” he said. “Really annoying, but could be useful. I thought, build a wind turbine, but what should we power?”

They realized they had to find the right spot for the wind turbine. “Couldn’t have it too gusty, couldn’t have too little,” Mr. Stauber said. “We tried out different locations until we found one that’s working.” It is in front of Morgenstern Hall, a dormitory. “And we had to find the right bulbs,” he said. “It would have been easier if we only had to light one.”

That is because the amount of power the system generates depends on wind speed. “We have the battery so the voltage doesn’t vary, because as the generator spins at different speeds, the output varies,” Mr. Holzer said. “So we collect the power in the battery, and it powers the menorah when we decide to turn it on.”

Mr. Stauber said he saw symbolism in the project. “In the miracle of the menorah, they got back to the temple and there was only enough oil for one night, but they made it last eight days,” he said. “I see an analogy with the world’s fight for sustainable energy, to take that and make it last as long as we’re going to need it.”

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