First year in competition

Seventh-graders bring home award from Solar Sprint championship

By Sarah E. Reynolds | Jun 06, 2014
Photo by: Sarah E. Reynolds Seventh-graders Grace Wrona, left, and Emma Steere had the fastest solar car in the double-elimination qualifying race at Hope Elementary School Tuesday, June 3. The pair qualified for the state championship at Owls Head Transportation Museum Saturday, June 7.

Hope — A pair of seventh-graders came away from the Junior Solar Sprint championship Saturday, June 7, with a first place prize for innovative design.

Ezra Smith and Bryce Tyler placed fourth overall in the statewide competition, according to their science teacher, John Dietter. It was held at Owls Head Transportation Museum.

Earlier in the week, science students in sixth and seventh grades pitted their projects against their classmates in a pair of firsts Tuesday, June 3.

Seventh-graders in Dietter's class took part in a qualifying heat of the Junior Solar Sprint, which invites middle schoolers to design, build and race solar-powered cars. The event is sponsored by the Maine Energy Education Program (MEEP), with funding from the Governor's Office of Energy Independence and Security and ReVision Energy. Fifth- through eighth-graders from around the state take part, said Peter Zack of MEEP. This is the first year Hope has entered.

Zack said students receive a motor and a three-volt solar panel, and can download specifications, instructions and tips for building their solar car online. Some materials and tools are furnished in class, and students may find materials on their own as well. The cars must carry an empty 12-ounce soda can in a compartment that will not collapse if the can comes out, and the can must stay in the compartment even if the vehicle flips, Zack said.

The track is 20 meters long over flat terrain. Guide wires made of fishing line are strung between cinder blocks at either end of the lanes, and the cars hook onto the wires. Before a heat starts, the solar cells are kept covered so the cars will not move until the signal is given.

For the championship, there are usually 50 to 60 teams, he said. Winning teams receive medallions for first, second and third place. Medallions are awarded not only for speed, but also for technology, craftsmanship and innovation, Zack said.

The Hope students took part in a double-elimination qualifying race involving nine teams. Some cars did not move on their own, and after the heats were over Zack explained to the students that in some cases the gears did not give the vehicle enough torque to get started.

Three teams from Hope were invited to the state championship. Winning the qualifying race June 3 were Grace Wrona and Emma Steere. In one heat, Wrona had forgotten to attach her car to the wire before the race began, and another car was already headed down the track before she got it hooked on. Once on the wire, though, Wrona and Steere's entry quickly passed the other car and easily rolled to victory.

She said one thing that helped their vehicle perform well was using a pulley as the drive mechanism instead of gears, and they constructed the car out of beams, rather than a solid piece of wood, to keep it light.

The team of Henry Cooper and Sam Luce also did well in the qualifying races, and were invited to Saturday's championship.

Although Smith and Taylor's car did not move when it was their turn to race, Zack praised their unusual design and offered them a wild card spot. Smith and Tyler's design clearly took aerodynamics into account, with the front coming to more of a point than the generally rectangular designs of the other cars. Also, like Wrona and Steere, they used beams rather than a solid piece of wood. Smith said he had put in some extra time on the design, starting the weekend before his class began the project at school.

Racing vehicles of a different sort Tuesday afternoon were Dietter's sixth-grade science students, who had built cars powered only by a mousetrap. This was the first time for the project at Hope Elementary, Dietter said. He explained that all the cars had the same amount of power, provided by springing the mousetrap. The difference between vehicles was in students' design and engineering.

Dietter said teams approached the assignment differently. Some drew detailed plans first, while others just started working with the materials. He said the project focuses on problem-solving and allows students of varying abilities to “find a place where they can hook into it and excel.”

He passed out several awards to the mousetrap teams: Taylor Wesbrock and Billy Murietta received the award for team spirit; the car that went the greatest distance was designed by Caellen Roberts and Shea Sewall; Emma Jordan got the award for perseverance; most innovative design went to Josh Pearse and Nick Turnbull; and  Evie Bracher, Emma Mitchell and Ella Pierce received the award for craftsmanship.

Coming from behind in the Solar Sprint
Henry Cooper's car on the right starts off well, as Grace Wrona, in the middle, belatedly attaches hers to the guide line. But once it's going, Wrona's car easily overtakes Cooper's in a heat of the Junior Solar Sprint qualifying race at Hope Elementary School Tuesday, June 3. This is the first year Hope seventh-graders have taken part in the solar vehicle competition. (Video by: Sarah E. Reynolds)
Mousetrap cars race
Hope Elementary School sixth-graders race mousetrap-powered cars they built in John Dietter's science. class Tuesday, June 3. (Video by: Sarah E. Reynolds)
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Sarah Reynolds
Sarah E. Reynolds is a reporter for the Camden Herald.
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Sarah E. Reynolds has been a reporter and writer for more than 20 years, winning awards from the Maine Press Association and other professional organizations. She loves to read, hike and play word games.

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