Solar Sprint: A Fun Way To Learn Science

Paul Dumas

Volunteer Paul Dumas signals the start of the 2012 Solar Sprint Exhibition for Niu Valley Middle student Haley Hatchell, whose model solar-powered vehicle starts its race down a 60-foot course at Kapolei High School. Photo from Janet Crawford of HECO.

Oahu students tested the speed of 160 handmade model solar vehicles at the annual Solar Sprint, held recently on the Kapolei High School campus.

Niu Valley Middle School joined the fray on the 60-foot track, alongside entries from Kahuku, Wheeler and Waipahu Intermediate; Kapolei Middle and Laie Elementary schools.

The April 26 sprint saw 360 students, working in pairs, release the vehicles they’d built from kits and hope they would finish with no mechanical problems. For most, it was their first experience working with electrical wires, which connected the small motors to the mini photo-voltaic panels on top of the small frames.

“The Solar Sprint is a real-world test of what the students are learning in the classroom,” explained Clyde Kobashigawa, Niu Valley science teacher. “The students look at it as a fun and interesting learning experience about solar energy, electricity and the mechanical aspects of cars.”

The event is sponsored by the DOE and Hawaiian Electric Co. to provide hands-on lessons for the children in principles of science and math and the power of the sunshine. The basic requirement is to complete the race course in 20 seconds. To exceed that, they can add 12 ounces of lead weights to the vehicle frames and try to finish the same course in under 35 seconds.