Windward Senior Creates DIY Wind Tunnel

Joan Horvath and Rich Cameron
The words “wind tunnel” usually bring to mind images of a huge facility with massive ductwork, or maybe the Wright Brothers. Either way, they usually were not within reach of high school students. We have been coaching graduating senior Matt on his creation of a do-it-yourself small wind tunnel so that he can explore different types of wings to fly on Earth, and maybe on Mars.  

This tunnel currently resides down in the Robotics Lab, where Matt (with an able assist  from science staff Tri Nguyen) has been hard at work first creating the tunnel and calibrating it and then taking data.

The availability of small electronics and 3D printers, like those Windward is using in all its maker activities makes it possible to create a small wind tunnel that allows students to understand the basics of aerodynamics and lets them explore some design tradeoffs.  

An Arduino processor is the overall controller of the tunnel’s electronics, and 3D printers in the science prep area created the wings. The wings were based on public domain designs that were published in the 1930s by a working group with reviewers that included Wilbur Wright and Charles Lindburgh, which was a fun exploration into the past of the field.

The software and calibration were a bit of a challenge, but it all worked out in the end.  Hopefully the tunnel will be around for a while for future students to develop aerodynamic models to study futuristic airplanes, or maybe understand birds, bugs, or pterosaurs in future design classes.

A presentation and exhibit of the work has been accepted for presentation and display June 16 at the American Association for Advancement of Science Pacific Division’s first Maker Symposium and Exhibit at University of San Diego, which you can read about at their website : This is a professional conference -- not a student one -- and this will be the only high school student presentation in the session. We are looking forward to seeing this example of “scientific maker tech” holding its own among university and professional exhibits.

-Joan Horvath and Rich Cameron are the co-founders of Nonscriptum LLC <> and maker tech consultants at Windward.
Windward School is a 7-12, co-educational, independent day school in Los Angeles, California.