Engineering students build solar-powered cars to 'rays' across hallway Photos and captions by Amanda Hare and Michael Ramirez, writing by Amanda Hare

To learn about power and project management, the engineering science class built solar-powered cars and raced them Friday, Oct. 29.

The students were able to use solar power, hydrogen fuel cells and any other energy storage device -- except for a battery -- to move a small, one kilogram vehicle from the arena to the auditorium.

The race was 30 minutes long. For the first 20 minutes of the race, students were able to power their car with a light. The cars then had to run on stored power for the last 10 minutes. (Photo by Amanda Hare)

"The desire was for students to learn about power and the different modes of power transmission," engineering science teacher Daniel Geiter said. "The second part of the lesson is electrical circuits and the applied difference between parallel and series circuits and the power associated with them as well as electrical power calculations. Further, there is the usage of the electrical power so the students are also tasked with calculating the mechanical power output of their vehicles as well. This also allows students to calculate efficiency of their vehicles."

Another goal of the project was to teach students about project management and the cost, scope and schedule of projects.

"Students were organized into teams of mechanical and electrical engineers as well as managers," Geiter said. "Each were responsible for tasks associated with their profession as well as giving feedback to each other, especially the managers who have to give direct, face-to-face critical feedback to their teammates which is a challenge for anyone, including most adults."

Sophomore Kate Hoover shines a light on her car. "I took Engineering Science because I have always loved learning how things work as well as building things and working with my hands," Hoover said. "I also enjoy and do fairly well in the math and science classes I have taken, and wanted to find out whether engineering was a career path I would be happy in." Hoover also said she would love to major in engineering at Texas A&M University. (Photo by Amanda Hare)

The engineering science classes utilized the Engineering Design Process for their project which includes asking questions, doing research, planning, testing and improving.

"We were given quite a bit of direction by Mr. Geiter on constraints for our project," sophomore Kate Hoover said. "We started with making decisions about where we wanted to focus our efforts on the car and used that to create three sketches, one made by each of the members of my group."

Hoover's group then chose a sketch to follow and built the car -- starting with the framework and building up -- and adjusted for spacing, balance and weight as needed.

With solar-powered cars they created, students participate in a race in the hallway. Junior Aaron Delgado shines a light on his car to power it. Junior Claireese Foley talks to sophomore Stetson Buttrill during the race. (Photos by Amanda Hare)

"There is a lot of trial and error involved in building a car, especially when using alternative fuel sources," Hoover said. "We used a solar cell and a fuel cell, which functions by turning distilled water into hydrogen and oxygen to produce electricity, both of which were something we had little to no prior experience with. Many adjustments were made from our original design based upon our own findings, the findings of our peers and recommendations from Mr. Geiter."

Each student was assigned a job in their group that was either mechanical, electrical or managerial. Hoover was the electronicaly-focused member of her team and she said it was important for her to communicate with the other members of her team about the placement and strength of electrical components as well as the budget.

With a light shinging on them, solar-powered cars roll across the hallway. The cars were made by students, and were mainly powered by solar power. The cars competed in a race spanning from the arena to the auditorium. (Photos by Amanda Hare)

"I also learned about prioritization and how it affected our run in the race," Hoover said. "We prioritized the solar cell in doing so, sacrificed time we could have spent working on the fuel cell. This led to a lower efficiency than we would have liked from the fuel cell."

Hoover's group placed in the "middle" of her class. She said the main problem for her group was the precision of the light and the issues the group encountered with their fuel cell due to the torque of their vehicle.

"We completed a little less than a third of the total course, Hoover said. "Overall, I would consider our run in the race a success, as most of the parts of our vehicle worked in the way we intended them to and provided us with a valuable learning experience."

Sophomore Fillan Lyon's works on his group's car. "We built on the basis that we had to be under a certain weight and that we had to use alternative fuel supplies," Lyon's said. "We tried our best to cut down on weight and provide the most speed possible using our knowledge on gear ratios." Lyon said he hopes to pursue a career in the STEM field. (Photo by Amanda Hare)

Sophomore Fillan Lyon's group placed third in their race.

"I think our group did quite well," Lyon said. "We placed third, and only one team completed the race so I was happy with our result. I learned that working as a team is very important. When we all combined our ideas we got the best result."

As junior Khushi Patel shines a light on her group's solar-powered car, junior Gabriel Escalante works on it. The engineering science classes raced their cars in the main hallway when the class takes place during first and fourth period. The day of the competition, the students had 30 minutes of prep time, and then the race occured for 30 minutes. (Photo by Amanda Hare)

"While everyone got off the starting line, I wish everyone had at least successfully traveled the arena hallway just so there was a greater feeling of accomplishment," Geiter said. "However, my hope is that the students will be motivated in the next project, the robotic Project Uplift. I suspect we will not have the same errors again."

Next, students will learn computer programming in block code as an introduction to robotics. Then, students will complete Project Uplift.

"In that project, they create robots to retrieve weight semi-autonomously in one round and then fully remote controlled in another round," Geiter said. "Some weights will be lighter than the robots, some weights will be heavier than the robots due to project limits. Students will have to figure out how to support a mass that weighs more than the lifting device. It is a good test of programming skills, mechanical construction skills, team management and center of mass/centroids exercises."

Holding the light, senior Tyler Moore charges the solar panels on his car. In the other hand he hold the cable to keep the light steady. He hopes to get the car in motion and keep the lead in the race. (Photo by Michael Ramirez)
Shining the light on their solar panels, juniors Morgan Winn and William Ragan charge their solar-powered car before the race. Winn makes final adjustments to the wheels and wiring of the battery for the night portion of the race. They hope to take first place in the upcoming race. (Photo by Michael Ramirez)
Kneeling down, sophomore Jackson Downs looks down at his car. He holds the light bulb to keep a steady beam on the solar panel. As he keeps an eye on the car, he waits for the car to start moving. (Photo by Michael Ramirez)
Re-aligning the solar panel sophomore Andrew Circe adjusts his car prior to the race. Sophomore Madeline Ashton assists Circe with re-wiring their solar-powered car. They worked to have a fully functioning car start the race. (Photo by Michael Ramirez)