The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Tulsa District lake manager of Keystone Lake was at his daughter’s science fair May 11, when a Mannford Middle School student’s project caught his eye.
The project had won first place and was about hydropower, said Travis Miller, the Keystone Lake manager. “More specifically, part of his project covered Keystone Dam, along with buckets, a turbine and a generator,” Miller said.
The project creator, 12-year-old Lydon Swafford, was educating his classmates on how hydropower works, including teaching them such technical details as the role of “pressure head,” or the energy stored in water because of the pressure exerted on a container, and how that relates to electrical generation.
“Needless to say,” Miller said, “I was quite impressed and tracked down his parents to offer up a tour of our powerhouse and dam.”
The next day Lydon showed up at Keystone Dam with his project and gave the presentation to Tulsa District personnel at the powerhouse. The project’s set up essentially mirrored a hydropower system like the one at Keystone. Water was put into a bucket on a table, which doubled as the lake. The water was then released through a small pipe and turned a paddle-wheel in a bucket on the floor, which in turn spun a small generator. A multimeter attached to the generator read the amount of voltage generated.
It all started when Lydon was thinking about the dam and the way water is released. “It was the flood a few years ago and how all the water was released at Keystone Dam more rapidly than usual and I just wanted to figure out how that works,” Lydon said.
That first bit of curiosity morphed into a science project about hydropower. Lydon interviewed a friend of the family who knew a thing or two about hydropower.
That interview “uncorked” Lydon’s excitement and imagination about the project, said Dan’yel Swafford, Lydon’s mother. “When he came up with the bucket method it was kind of not what his original plan was, but as he developed the method and presented it we were real nervous but he said, ‘As long as I get an A that’s all that matters.’”
The science fair win lead to the tour of the real hydropower unit, a place with a scale Lydon described as “insane” at one point.
“It just opened a whole other world for him to increase his level of interest for science,” Dan’yel said.
“I think it was exciting, it was fun,” Lydon said of the tour. “I think it was much better than my little bitty scale model. It was just a blast to see all the bigger versions of my little dam.”