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Hawthorne (NJ) High School Wins Third Place in State STEM Competition, with Help from New Era Converting Machinery, Inc.

Paterson, NJ (July 14, 2022) . . . A team of students from Hawthorne High School in New Jersey recently captured third place in the statewide STEAM Tank Challenge competition for their development of a new sustainable energy source. Called ‘Plektros’, the invention captures and stores energy generated from typing on a keyboard, then uses that energy to power the computer.

While working on their project, the students worked with engineers from New Era Converting Machinery, Inc. to learn more about circuitry, engineering, and business plan development. New Era’s President, Bob Pasquale, and engineers Brandon Frei and Mike Ettore met frequently with the students to provide guidance and feedback. Bob, Brandon and Mike are all graduates of Hawthorne High School.

“New Era was incredibly helpful, and our students really benefited from their expertise,” said Michele Phibbs, Math Teacher at Hawthorne High School and Advisor for STEM. “Partnerships between the schools and local business is very valuable and important for the community.”

The 3rd place finish is impressive for Hawthorne High School, a small school in comparison to many of the others they competed with in the competition. “We’re very proud of the Hawthorne team,” said Bob Pasquale, President of New Era Converting Machinery. “Hawthorne is a small school with a small math department, yet they came in 3rd place overall out of over 400 schools in the statewide competition.”

The STEAM Tank Challenge

The New Jersey School Boards Association (NJSBA) hosts the STEAM Tank Challenge each year. Sponsored by the US Army, the Challenge encourages students to apply science, technology, engineering, arts, and math (STEAM) in response to issues facing the world today. The challenge is open to K-12 public school students with three levels: elementary, middle, and high school. Each level has a first, second and third place prize.

Students apply as teams to invent something new, modify an existing product, or identify a situation or real-world problem that needs attention. Teams are provided criteria, and a panel of experts judges their designs and/or solutions. This year’s virtual competition challenged students to use the digital environment in their creativity.

The Invention – Plektros

Hawthorne High School’s STEM program consists of a sequence of courses, including Introduction to Engineering, Robotics, and a Capstone course for seniors who have an idea that they want to work on developing. It was the Capstone course that led four students (Tina Barsbay, Olivia Disant, Rebekah Gaehring and Turner (TJ) Marks) to decide on a problem to solve, and to enter the competition.

Plektros, the product developed by the Hawthorne team, was a keyboard overlay for a computer that captures and stores the kinetic energy produced by typing on the keyboard, and uses that stored power to charge the computer. The students are already working on a provisional patent application on the product.

Plektros is based on piezo electric circuits. When pressed and released, piezo crystals generate electricity. When developing the product, the students decided to make a keyboard overlay and wired piezos underneath. “They needed to learn about circuits, how to interface into a USB port, and continually work to improve the design,” said Michele Phibbs.


An important part of the project development process is the cooperation between the school and local business, and that’s where New Era Converting Machinery came in. “We wanted the students to have experience with professional engineers,” said Michele Phibbs. “Bob Pasquale at New Era has been involved in the Hawthorne community for years, and he graciously volunteered his and his engineers’ time.”

Unfortunately, due to the COVID pandemic, the students were unable to visit New Era’s facility or to meet with the engineers in person. “The New Era team met with the students remotely, via Zoom, due to the pandemic on a regular basis,” said Phibbs. “The students asked questions about circuitry, housings, materials and more. New Era engineers provided valuable assistance on product development, electronics, and even business plan development, and our students really benefited from their advice and expertise.”

About New Era Converting Machinery Inc.

New Era is a global enterprise focused on providing custom designed equipment solutions for the web handling industry. With decades of industry experience on staff, we can apply our engineered solutions to provide you with web handling equipment tailored to your converting needs. We have a great deal of experience with coating, laminating, calendering and drying systems for a wide variety of environments and our customer base spans most industries which handle materials in a roll-to-roll fashion. Learn more about New Era’s capabilities on our website https://www.neweraconverting.com or follow us on twitter @webconverting.

For further information please contact:

Bob Pasquale, President
New Era Converting Machinery Inc.
235 McLean Blvd North
Paterson, NJ 07504 USA
Tel.: +1-201-670-4848

Greg Hannoosh, President
Next Step Communications Inc.
Tel.: +1-207-703-0343