Weather was perfect — almost no clouds. The sun rose to exactly a 57º angle from the horizon at 11 o’clock on Friday May 18, 2012 at Washington, DC. At the start line, nine students just finished lining up the solar panel of their model car to get the most out of the sun, the only source of power for their cars. As the race master, Charlie Garlow of the Electric Vehicle Association of Greater DC exclaimed, “Go!” and the nine students simultaneously lifted the sun-blocking panels from their cars.More than a hundred spectators, mostly from the Howard University Middle School of Mathematics and Science, cheered, “go, go, go!” One solar car was particularly fast. However, just before it reached the finish line it suddenly stopped. The student at the finish line who was prepared to catch the presumed winning car squeezed his head with boths hand and tried to find out why it stalled. Meanwhile, a slower but steadier solar car passed by and won that race. The spectators went wild!
Solar Sprint Challenge
It was a scene at the Greater DC Solar Sprint Challenge last Friday, a model solar car competition of greater DC area, at the football field track of the Howard University main campus. More than 120 students in grades 4 to 8 from DC, Maryland, and Virginia formed 52 teams and competed for speed, design, innovation, and team spirit to promote science, technology and energy conservation. The challenge was to build the fastest solar powered model electric car no larger than 24 inch long and 12 inch wide and high. The students applied their knowledge of physics and engineering to maximize their cars for speed and reliability. The race was a double elimination competition with an additional chance to compete if eliminated in the first round.
Awards were given for design merits and team spirit in addition to speed. Josh Yoon and Hanui Hearty, seventh graders at Longfellow Middle School, Fairfax County won the first place in the speed division with their “Solar Ruler,” a model car built on a ruler commonly found at home improvement stores. Josh revealed one of his team secrets: “Gear ratio is everything.”
Kendall Robertson, Maria McHugo, Alice Fontaine, all fifth graders at Haycock Elementary School, Fairfax County won the design award. “My solar panel rotates easily,” commented Alice on the rotating solar panel that can be adjusted toward the sun and was a key feature that the five judges agreed upon for the design merit.
The hosting school team, the Howard University Middle School of Mathematics and Science of Washington DC, received the team spirit award. The Howard University Middle School of Mathematics and Science students not only showed off their cheerleading skills but also their responsibility by clearing the entire track and field, leaving no trash behind.
“I’ve been doing this for 23 years,” race master Garlow, an attorney for the Environmental Protection Agency and the president of the Electric Vehicle Association of Greater DC said, “and it is always fun.” According to him, some past students of the solar car competition sent him notes of gratitude after entering science and engineering programs in college.
“Today is a good day for a solar car,” Mr. Garlow added. Indeed, it was a good day not only for the solar model car competition in terms of weather, but also for promoting science and technology for youngsters in the region.
Photos courtesy of Dr. Dokyoung Yoon