DOINews: Reclamation: Seventh-Grade Student Engineer 'To Be' Olivia Culley Presents Her Penstock Theory

Last edited 09/05/2019

Olivia Culley using her model of a dam to explain her theory.

Seventh-grader Olivia Culley uses her working model of a dam to explain her water intake/penstock theory.

Attendees of the Regional Director's staff meeting were in the right place at the right time on April 6, 2015, when Stacey Smith introduced Olivia Culley, a seventh-grade student from St. Francis Xavier School (Kearns, Utah) who amazed everyone with her “Stocked Up Water” demonstration model.

Based on information she obtained partly from Reclamation's web site and brochure/fact sheet materials Smith provides at youth-outreach events, 13-year-old Culley created a working model of a dam and hydroelectric power generator to prove her hypothesis regarding the angle of water intakes/penstocks and the potential increase in power-generation efficiency. This young ‘engineer-to-be' impressed everyone with her knowledge and capability in science and technology, as well as her dynamic personality, confident presence, and impressive oral presentation skills.

Smith learned about Culley through his extensive involvement in many youth-outreach events. “I thought it would be great for this future engineering student and maybe even a future Reclamation engineer to get the opportunity to show our agency what she's done,” Smith said. “I was really excited to discover someone so young with skills and interest in engineering and water resource related innovation! That's the future in Reclamation.”

Culley has received first-place awards in numerous science competitions within her grade in school. At the Salt Lake Valley Engineering Fair, she placed third and received an honorable mentions for civil engineering and women in technology.

“I became interested in dams when Stacey Smith introduced me to dams last year. I had many questions about dams, so he there lead me to the Bureau of Reclamation website. I looked on the website and had many questions. My school requires science fair, so I thought that the science fair was a perfect opportunity to answer one of my questions. Even though my school does require science fair, I would have still tested out my problem and found the answer to my question. During my whole science fair, Stacey acted as my mentor, answering as many questions as he could. I could have just made a simple dam, but I realized that I like to see data and to go through formulas, so that is when I started to come up with ideas when I ended up coming up with a way to find how many millivolts the dam that I created would produce and went from there. I did realize this past year that I am very interested in engineering and having data. Last year I tested two different concussion headbands to see which one protects the head best. I looked at the different structures of the headbands and the different foams (materials) inside of each one. I am still unsure what I want to be when I grow up but I am hoping that it will be in engineering.” Olivia Culley

Closeup of Olivia Culley's project

Above is Olivia Culley's model illustrating water intakes/penstocks of a dam.

After Culley's presentation, Smith took the opportunity to introduce her to some of the staff in Sen. Mike Lee's office. If you didn't get the opportunity to meet this amazing young lady, look for her in the future … maybe she'll be working for Reclamation!



Does the angle of the penstock of a dam affect the amount of electricity a dam can produce?


If the power in a dam increases when the acceleration of the water increases, and if the angle of a penstock can affect the acceleration of the water, and if the acceleration of the water affects the amount of energy produce, then I predict that when the angle of the penstock sharpens, the energy the dam creates increases.


I accept my hypothesis that when the angle of a penstock sharpens, the amount of power that a dam can produce increases. I also reject my hypothesis because once the angle has past 90 degrees, the power will decrease.

  • The average of 0 degrees is 173.5 mV. The average in volts is 0.1735 V.
  • The average of 45 degrees is 199.75 mV. The average in volts is 0.19975 V.
  • The average of 90 degrees is 346.5 mV. The average in volts is 0.3465 V.
  • The average of 135 degrees is 203.5 mV. The average in volts is 0.2035 V.


St. Francis Xavier School Science Fair:

  • First in seventh-grade engineering
  • First in engineering all grades
  • First overall seventh grade (all categories)
  • Top scientist of the year (first in all grades, all categories)

Diocesan Science Fair (Region:

  • Second in seventh-grade engineering
  • Best oral presentation (all categories, all grades)
  • Invention for SLVSEF (state)

Salt Lake Valley Engineering Fair SLVSEF (State)

  • Third in materials and civil engineering, seventh and eighth grade
  • Honorable mention in civil engineering, seventh and eighth grade
  • Salt Lake Public Utilities Junior Division
  • National Center for Women and Information Technology, Honorable Mention

By: Stacey Smith, Upper Colorado Region, Reclamation

April 28, 2015

Related Link:

Reclamation-Upper Colorado Region

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