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February 18. 2014 8:06PM

Outage science

Science of power outages intrigues Londonderry 6th graders


Charles Christensen, an electrical engineer with Public Service of New Hampshire, helped sixth grader Luke St. Cyr suit up in flame-retardant clothing typically worn by linemen during a visit to Londonderry Middle School Monday afternoon. During the 40-minute program, the students learned some interesting facts about power outages and the process of power restoration. (APRIL GUILMET PHOTO)

LONDONDERRY — One day before the most recent snowstorm, local sixth-graders were tackling one timely topic: the science of power outages.

Charles Christensen, transmission supervisor and electrical engineer for Public Service of New Hampshire, had the day off Monday, but that didn’t stop him from visiting friends at Londonderry Middle School, who were eager to learn a thing or two about electricity and how it operates.

Christensen, whose daughter, Rachel Papen, teaches science at the school, said he welcomed the chance to share his knowledge with local children and brought along plenty of props to pique their interest.

Papen said her students have been studying electricity this past term, so her father’s visit came at the perfect time.

Motioning to a pile of inactive wires, conductors and circuits, Christensen said he hoped a handful of the students might ultimately express interest in working for the local power company someday.

“You never know,” he said, “we might have a couple of future engineers in the room.”

Papen said her father’s career made hers a unique childhood.

“Growing up, my mom and I would be home during a snowstorm, but my dad had to stay at work until everyone’s power came back on,” she laughed. “Sometimes it took quite a while.”

Sharing a brief video and slide presentation, Christensen pointed out snapshots taken during a recent trip to Quebec, where a section of power lines had bowed under the weight of heavy snow.

“These wires just aren’t made to handle quite this much ice,” he told the students. “That’s when you get power outages.”

Once that happens, he said, it takes more than a team of men in a yellow truck to make the power come back on again.

“There are many other people working behind the scenes, people you don’t tend to see,” Christensen said. “It takes an enormous number of people and energy.”

Many students were surprised to learn that the state’s largest electrical substation is located in their hometown, or that sometimes it’s not ice and snow, but something as unassuming as a wayward squirrel that leads to an outage.

Others let out a collective gasp when shown footage of an electrical fire.

“If you see a downed power line, you should keep away from it,” Christensen told the students. “Depending on the voltage, electricity can actually travel through the air. That’s what lightning is.”

Suppressing a giggle, student Luke St. Cyr stepped to the front of the class to model some protective gear typically worn by PSNH linemen and women: flame-retardant pants, neon-yellow vest, matching hard hat and heavy goggles.

“Feels pretty hot,” the sixth-grader proclaimed, expressing surprise to learn that workers wear such garb even in the dog days of August.

aguilmet@newstote.com


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