At just 12 years old, Sultan Middle School student Samuel T. Inman mastered the logistics involved with creating a small-scale hydroelectric facility, capable of powering a light bulb. Now 13, he’s moving on to wireless electricity, with plans to build a Tesla coil and use it to charge a cellular phone.
A lifelong resident of the Sky Valley, Sam’s remarkable proficiency in engineering and mechanics helped Sultan Middle School achieve “School of the Year” during the 2017 Washington State Science and Engineering Fair (WSSEF), held in Bremerton at the end of March. It was the middle school’s first appearance at the annual event, which welcomed over 700 different student presenters from across the state of Washington, ranging in age from first through twelfth-grade.
Sam was one of 46 Sultan Middle School sixth-graders who traveled to Bremerton for the fair, which is meant to encourage and promote careers in science and engineering. The school’s participation at WSSEF was spearheaded by science teacher Dr. Brian Pinkerton, an educator for 30 years.
Sam’s hydroelectric facility earned him a first-place award at the Sultan Middle School science fair, which secured his position at the state competition. At WSSEF, he was honored with a first place award in the Engineering Mechanics junior division, a Project of Distinction Award from Diamond Jubilee Research, an Outstanding Energy and Environment Award from the Bonneville Power Administration, a Young Minds with Power and Energy Award from the Lisbon Group and a Young Explorer Award from Margaret I Lugg.
“He knocked it out of the park,” said Sultan Middle School Principal Nathan Plummer.
His multiple honors came with a commemorative plaque, a trophy, a certificate, a monetary award of $60 and a tour of the Bonneville Power Administration training facility.
The inspiration for his project came from his father, also named Samuel, who built a functioning hydro plant in the early 1980s. It was a family project, said Sam Sr., built by himself, his father and his siblings. It operated from roughly 1983 through 2007 at the family home near Index, generating enough electricity to power the residence and the garage.
“Even though it was before his time, Samuel was always fascinated with that. When I asked him what he wanted to do for the science fair, he was hard set on building a working model of a hydro plant,” said Sam Sr. “That seemed like a daunting task, but as we talked, and looked into it, we were able to come up with a plan to create electricity using the weight of water.”
Sam worked with his father to develop his idea. The two used a computer-aided design and drafting (CADD) program called SOLIDWORKS to create a three-dimensional model of the hydro plant. Guided by his father, Sam drew all the components of the hydro plant himself in SOLIDWORKS, before attempting to construct the project. Then, they gathered the materials they needed and began construction.
The materials list included a bar stool, two buckets, plastic tubing, popsicle sticks, a turbine, wiring, a small lightbulb and a few other odds and ends. The project included some minor troubleshooting, as during its initial operation they discovered they needed to better direct the water.
“When we first tested it out, the water splashed everywhere. It was leaking,” Sam said. “It wasn’t working; we needed something to seal up the water.”
They created a custom funnel with very specific dimensions so that the water would be directed to the turbine. The result of Sam’s dedication and commitment to his idea was an award-winning project that performed above and beyond anyone’s expectations – including his own.
Sam lives in Gold Bar with his parents and older sister. While he admittedly loves science classes, he also enjoys math and physical education. He is looking forward to playing football next year, but hasn’t decided on a position yet. He plans to have his sister’s boyfriend give him some pointers.
He is also looking forward to working on his Tesla coil, and is still in the process of conceptualizing the project. His preliminary plans include using copper wiring to achieve wireless power transmission, which he will use to charge a cell phone.
“I haven’t figured it out fully but I’m just going to use electricity and a little copper coil,” Sam said.
He is hopeful the school will be able to participate in the 2018 WSSEF event, which takes place March 23 and 24, 2018, in Bremerton.
When asked to reflect on Sam’s many achievements both in the classroom and in academic competition, Pinkerton said that he was reminded of a quote by “The Art of Creative Thinking” author Rod Judkins, which states; “Creativity isn’t a switch that’s flicked on or off; it’s a way of seeing, engaging and responding to the world around you.”
“In Sam’s case, a unique ability to visualize everyday scientific problems through the lens of appropriate technology makes him not only a top notch competitor at local and state science competitions, but also a creative young scientist determined to improve the world around him,” Pinkerton said.