Summit High School’s solar scholars win awards with sun-powered cars
Ryan Summerlin May 30, 2014
Imagine your oven door speeding along the ground faster than Olympic runner Usain Bolt can sprint.
Members of the Summit High School tech club designed and built a solar-powered remote-control car that can go 28 mph. The car, one of two built by the tech club’s two teams, won first place for fastest speed at the Solar Rollers competition Saturday, May 17.
Summit High’s two teams joined eight others in Glenwood Springs for the event, competed in five categories and brought home six trophies.
“They just totally got into the project,” said Rick Karden, the school’s tech teacher and coach of the tech club team. “It was awesome.”
The second annual event was sponsored by Energetics Education and Solar Energy International, two Carbondale nonprofits dedicated to educating and empowering people with energy-based climate change solutions and sustainable practices.
The kit used by every team for the competition, which included the solar cells, foam body and wheel assembly, cost $1,000, so the students fundraised in the fall.
They raised $2,000, collecting $500 grants from both Xcel Energy and Holy Cross Energy and donations from other companies.
They also sold yogurt and cinnamon rolls to other students with help from Cameez, the Frisco frozen yogurt shop.
Then, through the spring semester, eight students met during class to design, build and test the cars. Their cars each weigh 1.4 kilograms, or about 3 pounds, and run on batteries and the 9.2 volts of energy produced by 14 small solar panels.
The students received some help constructing the chassis they designed from Bomber Industries in Silverthorne.
The solar cells are thin and fragile, Karden said. “They had to learn how to solder them without breaking them.”
The project taught the students different engineering and troubleshooting techniques. At one point, they almost short-circuited a battery, causing the classroom to fill with smoke.
The students spent more and more spare time on the cars as the competition approached. And though building the cars was fun, students said racing them was the best part.
The competition’s five events were a 20-question knowledge test, fastest speed using solar power and batteries, fastest speed using only solar power, a solar-only lap race and a solar- and battery-powered endurance competition.
Each team had a pit crew to rescue their cars after they took too much of a beating from the others during a race or when parts fell off.
For next year, Karden said he is trying to add an all-girls team. Some of this year’s team members said they’re excited to make changes to their design. The group wouldn’t give away any trade secrets, of course.