Tuesday, February 03, 2015

The engineer's dream tour

The highlight of our get-out-of-the-cold trip to Las Vegas was visiting the Hoover Dam. Sean was pumped for it from the minute we booked our flight. He talked about it for weeks before, and then when we actually got to Las Vegas, he picked the day with the best weather outlook to go. On the day of our scheduled tour we changed our breakfast plans to get to the Dam earlier. To say he was happy that morning is an understatement.

So imagine his excitement when the tour guide said, “You’re going to see something most people never see at the Dam, something that only happens every 17 to 20 years.”

He practically giggled with glee.

Turns out one of the turbines was out of its generator for service. It was sitting on the plant floor for us to see. And see it Sean did.

The turbine - it was enormous. Look at the fork truck next to it for reference.

Sean standing next to the tour guide. You can see the generators 
to their left. There are eight on the Nevada side.

I poked fun at Sean's excitement for this tour, but honestly, this non-engineer was fascinated by the whole shebang. That this massive dam was built more than 70 years ago using pick axes and dynamite, before computer models and heavy-duty construction equipment is a testament to American ingenuity. The thickness of the dam is more than two football fields and it’s all concrete. It was completed in five years, two years ahead of schedule, and came in under budget.

Can you imagine any government project with those stats today? Me neither.

The engineers who planned that thing were pretty dang smart. It truly is a marvel of engineering.

I'll stick to being the primary vacation planner in the family, but the next time Sean suggests a tour, I won't be so quick to poo-poo the idea.  

Turns out he's one of those pretty dang smart engineers, too.


For those not entirely certain on how water turns into electricity, here's some info from the Hoover Dam website:

How does a generator produce electricity?

Water flows through large pipes inside a dam and turns a large wheel called a turbine. The turbine turns a shaft which rotates a series of magnets past copper coils and a generator to produce electricity. This converts the energy of falling water into mechanical energy to drive the generator.

Here’s a more detailed explanation: The water’s force on the blades of the turbine turns a rotor – a series of magnets - which is the rotating portion of the generator where a magnetic field is created.  The stator is the stationary part of the generator made of coils of copper wire. Electricity is produced as the magnets of the rotors spin past the stationary wiring of the stator. This concept was discovered by scientist Michael Faraday in 1831 when he found that electricity could be created by rotating magnets within copper coils.