West High student’s solar research project takes flight

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Tina Minard records data during the simulation with Noah Orr. Courtesy

Can you imagine a Boeing 747 powered completely by solar panels? Manchester West High School sophomore Noah Orr could and wanted to figure out if it’s possible. Orr is participating in the STEM Discovery Lab’s Agnes Lindsay STEM Fellowship Program. As part of the program, Orr is conducting a research project with the support of his mentor, University of New Hampshire Manchester Biotechnology student Tina Minard.

Knowing the importance of authentic learning experiences, Minard wanted Orr to have an opportunity to run simulations and collect data to analyze. She reached out to Brendan Meehan, Flight Operations at National Flight Simulator. He was happy to help.

West High student Noah Orr at the controls during a flight simulation. Courtesy Photo

“I wanted him to experience what it’s like to be in an airplane and see what pilots need. Different airplanes demand different power settings and there are a lot of factors you have to think about,” Meehan said. “I invited him to come down to try to understand some of that.”

Orr had the opportunity to do a flight simulation and talk with pilots and staff at the company. Although he found the experience “cool,” he concluded it’s not yet feasible to use solar power to operate a plane the size of a 747. “I think my hypothesis probably isn’t right,” he said.

“You piecing it all together is why Tina called me and why I invited you down here,” Meehan said. “I don’t see solar panels there yet, but they could be used for smaller functions. Is that the end all, be all though? No. Part of engineering is going against the odds. We’ll never get those technological advances unless someone tries.”

Noah Orr and Tina Minard learn about different types of planes as part of the UNH STEM Discovery Lab’s Agnes Lindsay STEM Fellowship Program. Courtesy

National Flight Simulator CEO Stephen Cunningham believes young people need opportunities, mentors and encouragement and offered these words: “Technology is going to advance beyond what we can imagine. Anything and everything is possible and it’s going to take people like you to do it. I’m thrilled by what you’re doing. Stick with it.”

Orr will continue to research the role of solar panels in aircraft to present at the Undergraduate Research Conference at University of New Hampshire Manchester in April.

In her role as the STEM Discovery Lab Coordinator, Emily supports the collaborative effort between UNH Cooperative Extension and UNH Manchester of the STEM Discovery Lab located on the Manchester campus. Emily was an English as a Second Language and English Language Learner educator for youth and adults in the greater Manchester and Seacoast areas for over 8 years and was the project assistant for the GATE CITY Project (Getting All Teachers ESOL Certified in Two Years) at UNH Manchester from 2012 to 2015. Emily earned her B.A. in international studies from The Ohio State University and her M.Ed. in secondary education from UNH Manchester. She is the mother of two active teenage boys and loves spending time outdoors.