By Meagan Steed
Using the power of the sun, sixth-graders at Parkside Intermediate School in Westlake competed May 30 in the ninth annual Parkside Junior Solar Sprint Race. The handmade cars were each equipped with a solar panel that powered the vehicles across the finish line.
Six science classes competed in the 20-meter race, which was broken into two heats to accommodate 125 teams. Each team was comprised of two students working together for three weeks constructing their vehicle. In order to compete in this event, their car had to pass the 10-meter qualifying race held the prior week.
“The students started building their cars in the beginning of May in their science classes,” said Carol Winter, a parent volunteer. “The students are learning about gear ratios and how to make the fastest car.”
This event is based on the U.S. Department of Energy’s Junior Solar Sprint Program, which allows students to apply math, science and creativity in a hands-on program to assemble model solar-powered cars. When Kurt Thonnings, once a technology teacher at Parkside, came to Westlake nine years ago, he brought with him experience with the program and incorporated it into the current curriculum at Parkside.
Contributing to the educational experience for the students, Sunnyside Toyota and Dovetail Solar and Wind held demonstrations illustrating the benefits of solar power. Sunnyside Toyota had five hybrid vehicles on display for the students to explore. Dovetail Solar and Wind, a company that designs and installs solar photovoltaic (PV) systems for both commercial and residential clients, had solar panels on display and answered the numerous questions posed by curious students. A solar PV system is comprised of one or more solar panels that convert sunlight into electricity.
“Solar is easier to obtain and more affordable than people realize,” said Jeff Burns, regional manager of Dovetail Solar and Wind. “Solar power works in Ohio. We monitor all of our systems, and once we average the power obtained from winter and summer, we are able to overall produce a good amount of power.”
According to Patrick McMorrow, science and math teacher at Parkside, each car cost approximately $35 to construct. The teachers supplied the motors, gears and solar panels, and students were able to use anything they could find at home to complete the construction of their vehicle. After the event the students dismantle their vehicles, and the motors, gears and solar panels are saved and reused the following year.
Seven teams crossed the finish line in less than 10 seconds. The winning car, KA33 – built by Kate Fulton and Audrey Lyle – came in first with a time of 6.29 seconds.
“It was just a really fun experience to build the car and be outside with all of my friends and watch the cars race,” said Fulton.
Team Ether Bunnies may not have made it down the 20-meter course in one piece, but it demonstrated the importance of the center of gravity to students.