How to Build a Waterwheel for Science Class

Written by contributing writer
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Build a science project using Popsicle sticks, a can and a small motor to show other students that you can make renewable energy. If your teacher does not have an ammeter to measure the current (as I suggest below), then use an LED bulb instead to show the other students that you are generating power.

Skill level:
Moderately Challenging

Things you need

  • Can
  • Smooth-edge can opener
  • LED bulb or ammeter
  • Popsicle sticks (1 bag from craft store)
  • Drill and 1/8 inch bit
  • Hot glue gun and glue sticks
  • Small motor (with attached wire leads)

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  1. 1

    Cut the top and bottom off of a can using a smooth-edge can opener.

  2. 2

    Drill a hole in the cans at the centre with a 1/8 inch bit. Find the centre by using a ruler to find where two points on the can are farthest apart. Place the sharp point of a compass at one of these points and make a circle so that part of the circle overlaps the can just 1/2 inch past the centre point (and ignore the rest of the circle that isn't on the can).

  3. 3

    Do the same thing from the other side without changing the size of the gap on the compass. This should create two points where the circles intersect. Draw a line between these two points. Draw a line between the two places where the sharp end of the compass rested earlier. These two lines cross at the exact centre.

  4. 4

    Pull a transparent ink reservoir from the inside of a pen. Pull off the head (outside on the lawn). Put your lips on the "clean" side, so you do not get ink on yourself, and blow out the ink onto a piece of paper you throw away so that it does not get everywhere. Use the high pressure setting on the hose nozzle to rinse out the rest of the ink until the tube is clear of ink.

  5. 5

    Cut Popsicle sticks into 1/2-inch lengths (without the rounded edges). Insert the empty ink tube through the holes in the can and glue the two can ends far enough apart that they just barely leave enough space to fit in a Popsicle stick as a paddle for the water wheel (with the widest part of the Popsicle stick perpendicular to the can).

  6. 6

    When the glue cools, glue the Popsicle sticks into position so that they radiate out from the ink tube and stick out a millimetre past the edge of the can ends. The widest part of the Popsicle stick should hold the can ends apart. Use the glue gun to make the parts all stay in place.

  7. 7

    Insert the ink tube through the holes that go through the can ends once the glue from the previous step is cool. Slide the can ends/water wheel onto the ink tube so that the tube sticks out the same distance on either side.

  8. 8

    Glue Popsicle sticks together into a "T" shape and drill a hole at the base of the T that is wide enough for the ink tube axle to spin freely.

  9. 9

    Make a "raft" for the base of the water wheel by gluing sticks in two layers that cross each other. Glue the top of one of the T shapes to an edge of the raft so that the T stands upside down when the raft is flat on the table.

  10. 10

    Insert one end of the ink tube with the wheels attached so that the wheels are above the raft. Slide the ink tube sticking out of the other end of the wheel into the hole in the base of the other T shape and then glue the second T shape to the raft so that the wheel freely spins.

  11. 11

    Cut the rounded ends off of a Popsicle stick. Cut this stick in half. To generate electricity, glue a small motor to one of these Popsicle sticks so that the stick sticks out as far as the tip of the motor. Measure the motor shaft. Cut the ink tube that sticks out on one side of one of the T shapes so that it is the same length as the motor shaft.

  12. 12

    Slide the motor shaft into the ink tube and glue these together so that the motor shaft is perpendicular to the (inverted) T shape and the water wheel. The Popsicle stick that the motor is glued to should be touching the T shaped Popsicle stick in a position underneath the motor and should be glued where the wood under the motor touches the wood on the T shape. Hold the pieces in place until the glue dries. Glue the remaining Popsicle stick in a supporting position so that it slopes out from the T shape to the back end of the motor. Run the wires from the motor to an ammeter to measure the power you get as the wheel turns.

Tips and warnings

  • If the raft (the base) of the water wheel is not wide enough, widen it by gluing more Popsicle sticks on to prevent tipping. If you are running this project with the base submerged, either glue the base to the ground where it will be used or glue it to weigh it down with something heavy to use as ballast. Protect your motor with plastic wrap that you glue or tape on.
  • Do not touch the moving parts, hot parts (like glue and glue guns), or electrical conductors (including water with electricity running through it). Do not let the motor or electrical parts get wet. Do not use an outside power source or charge batteries as energy storage. Get an adult who knows what they are doing to help you not to hurt yourself.

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