Students capture second-place honors at water tower competition

The challenge was simple: Build a tower that will hold and then expel one-gallon of water without falling apart. The road was full of trials and errors, yet in the end, Norfolk Collegiate’s team of four eighth-grade students came home with second-place honors and $200 to split between them. 

On Saturday, Nov. 15, Norfolk Collegiate students were among the 18 teams that participated in the first Virginia Division sponsored American Water Works Association water tower building competition at Old Dominion University. The goal may have been for the teams to build a functioning water tower; however, the focus of the challenge also was to have students consider the structural efficiency, cost efficiency, design ingenuity and hydraulic testing of the tower. The hope was that the experience would encourage students to explore math, science and engineering.

Collegiate's team, which was comprised of volunteers Ray Domena, Stella Escano, Bryce Whitlock and Jake George's, gathered on Thursday afternoons from the end of September onward to work on the project.

“It sounded interesting,” said Stella as to why she joined the team.  Her classmate, Jake agreed. “It was like a wild card for after-school activities that brought us all together.” 

Finding the materials for the project consisted of rummaging around the Middle School rooms and their homes, in addition to purchasing one or two items from the store. The students even managed to incorporate the school’s new 3D printers. “We made lid and rings with the 3D printer,” said Ray.

The requirements
There were several requirements for the competition. For example, students had to use a specific 3/8-inch connector, the tower’s base had to be no larger than 1 square foot, there must be at least 18 inches between the ground/table top and the bottom of the water container and the structure including its vent/cover could be no more than 30 inches high.  

“The requirements were pretty broad,” said Ray, “so working within in the given specifications wasn’t hard.”

After deliberating, the students decided on a tower with a circular basin which sits atop several dowel rods and a hexagonal base. While creating their structure, they were inspired by Pokémon music, so they incorporated the Pokémon theme into their tower with a Venesaur, which is the blue creature atop the tower. On its back was a flower, which the creature used to catch the sun’s rays to convert into energy.

The theme
“They wanted a Pokémon theme and decided to cut the top off of a clear party bowl purchased at the Dollar Store and glue it to a red party bowl,” said science teacher and the team’s adviser Claire Fornsel. “The red bowl also needed a hole drilled to fit a tube that would carry the water. We scavenged our garages for wood for the base and 3/8" tubing, crazy glue, epoxy and wood dowels. The Styrofoam, hot glue gun, wine bottle corks, paint and paint brushes along with a number of hand tools were utilized from the Middle School’s Maker Space.  The Venesaur and the vent cover were printed using the Middle School’s 3D printer. The vent cover was designed by the students using Tinker Cad.”    

Once it was constructed, “it wasn't tall enough, so we added wine corks,” said Bryce. 

Lessons learned
They also learned that the project was messier and more difficult than they thought it would be. Fixing the leaks proved to be a constant challenge. 

“The first test went badly,” said Ray. “There was water exploding out of multiple points.” So they decided that they needed to caulk the bowls to hold them together and then epoxied it to seal the structure. 

“We also learned that we needed to use water resistant paint,” said Ray. 

Yet in the end, they were pleased with the tower. “We wanted to build a tower that not only looked good, but also was functional,” said Bryce.

For Jake, who was unable to make it on the day of the competition, the best part of the project was “all of us coming together and cooperating.”