Niu Valley Solar Cars Race Under Hot Sun

June Motokawa signals the race between Niu Valley’s Julia Lefritz and Zi Jun Huang. Photo from HECO.

Sun power and brain power were tested this spring at the annual Solar Sprint at Kapolei High School, where hundreds of seventh-and eighth-graders raced their handmade, model solar-powered vehicles.

Supported by a mini photovoltaic panel and a small electric motor, each entry had to travel a 20-meter course within 20 seconds – about 3 feet per second.

“We gave them the basic vehicle parts and let them build it,” said Niu Valley Middle science teacher Darrah Brown of the self-directed team. “In this project they applied science principles, testing the product and adjusting the variables to make it work.”

Regardless of their “real” learning, students enjoyed bringing to life their designs for the lightweight, bare-frame racers. And the lesson (shhh!) was all about energy.

Sponsored by the DOE and Hawaiian Electric Co., the April 18 races also attracted teams from Kahuku High and Intermediate, Laie Elementary, Waipahu and Wheeler Intermediate and Kapolei Middle schools.