Solar Sprint Cultivates Young Engineers Under The Hot Sun

Wendi Chun

Volunteer Wendi Chun (in red cap) signals Niu Valley Middle School student Kailee Graf to uncover the PV panel on her lightweight solar-powered vehicle and start the timed Solar Sprint Exhibition performance run on Earth Day under sunny skies at Kapolei High School. Photo from HECO.

Earth Day turned out to be an ideal date to demonstrate the power of the sun.

Niu Valley Middle School students arrived on the tennis courts at Kapolei High School April 22 ready to test the performance of their model solar-powered vehicles in timed trials. All entries were created from light-weight, bare frames strong enough to support a mini photovoltaic panel and small electric motor.

The annual Solar Sprint Exhibition comes courtesy of Hawaiian Electric Co. and DOE. “We want to encourage students to learn how the sun’s energy is converted into useful electrical energy,” explained HECO’s program administrator Kimm Teruya.

The cars had to sprint down a 20-meter course within 20 seconds, or about 3 feet per second. To exceed the standard, the students added lead weights to attempt to run the same course in 30 seconds. Along with the East Oahu school, other solar teams (about 350 youths) came from Wheeler and Kapolei Middle schools; Waipahu Intermediate, and Laie and Waianae Elementary schools.

“This is one of the best, authentic assessments of learning offered by the DOE,” declared Niu Valley science teacher Clyde Kobashigawa.

“The students had to go through the International Baccalaureate design technology process as well as the scientific inquiry process to design and build their solar cars.”