FIU Engineering student Adam Manoussakis understands the skepticism he hears when he tries to explain the mechanics of a bicycle-powered blender that can whip up a tasty fruit smoothie in a matter of seconds.
“It does sound a little strange,” said Manoussakis, a senior studying electrical engineering. “You’re basically creating electricity to power a 1,000-watt blender. You really have to see it to believe it.’’
Students at Miami Northwestern Senior High School in Liberty City not only got to see it – they got to build it. As part of The Education Effect partnership with FIU, the students have built three blender bikes – pedal-powered stationary bicycles fitted with blenders.
Two are completely human-powered – the faster you pedal, the faster the blender blade turns. One is connected to a generator that creates electricity, which is then stored in a battery to power the blender.
Made completely from spare parts, painted in shop class by MNW students and using a raspberry lemonade recipe they helped create, the bikes will make their debut at the upcoming Food Network South Beach Wine and Food Festival presented by FOOD AND WINE’s “Fun and Fit as a Family” event.
Celebrity chef Robert Irvine – who is hosting the event at Jungle Island on Feb. 22 and 23 – may even take a turn on one of the bikes.
It’s the end result of months of planning and instruction in everything from culinary arts and nutrition to engineering, basic welding and geometry.
“It’s a great experience for Miami Northwestern,’’ said Mark D’Alessandro, a professor in FIU’s Chaplin School of Hospitality and Tourism Management who runs a culinary arts project at MNW as part of The Education Effect’s Plant it Forward initiative. “And the folks at SOBE loved it. It’s all focused on healthy families and healthy food.’’
D’Alessandro worked with the students to create the frozen raspberry lemonade recipe, using fresh-squeezed lemon juice, raspberries, mint and agave syrup.
“We experimented with lemon, lime, honey and maple syrup,’’ D’Alessandro said. “The students were very involved.’’
The mint for the lemonade is being grown at the school’s organic garden, another aspect of The Education Effect, launched in 2011 with a grant from JPMorgan Chase. The program combines hands-on learning across a variety of disciplines, including biology, chemistry, culinary arts, social entrepreneurship and nutrition.
“We are excited to be able to creatively extend the scope, reach and impact of The Education Effect thanks to the partnership and investment by JPMorgan Chase,” said FIU’s Vice President for Engagement Irma Becerra-Fernandez.
Eventually, the students will bring the blender bikes to other local events like farmers markets or use them during cooking demonstrations at local elementary schools. The bikes can be used to power hot plates for cooking tilapia – also grown at the school using an aquaponics unit, another key component of The Education Effect that combines growing fish and edible plants in a symbiotic environment.
“It’s about much more than blender bikes and making smoothies,’’ said Maria Lovett, partnership director of The Education Effect, the university community school partnership at MNW that began in 2011 and has helped the school achieve its first-ever “A” grade in state rankings. “It’s about healthy eating, growing produce in the garden, working with the aquaponics and seeing the results of the work they are doing and how it can apply to different college majors or careers.’’
Over the two-day event at Jungle Island, the students will serve up more than 3,000 free 2-ounce samples of frozen lemonade – and explain the science behind the process. They’ll also appear on the main stage with Irvine and demonstrate the bikes. Members of the public will get to try out the bikes as well.
“It’s going to be fun,’’ said MNW senior Raymond Gibson, 17. “We’re going to show off the bikes we made in class, explain how it all works and make a whole bunch of frozen lemonade.’’
“It’s something really different,’’ agreed Josh Mortimer, also a senior. “We made the bikes from scratch, put them together ourselves and we’re using pedal power to create electricity. We could power a blender, a food processor, a radio or a cell phone charger.”
Most importantly, the students learned the importance of teamwork in the process, said MNW welding instructor Dustin Welch, who had six classes working fulltime on the blender bikes for the past six weeks. The students were so excited about the project that many came on their lunch breaks or after school to keep working.
“I let them have a lot of freedom with it,’’ Welch said. “They took the idea and made their own version. And they did it entirely from scratch, using scrap metal and spare parts from around Liberty City – stuff that would have ended up in the garbage.”
“They made it look nice and they made it their own.’’
by Amy Ellis