Electric Car Challenge Sparks Students’ STEM Interest

electric car
The race involves five qualifying runs and a final head-to-head elimination tournament. Trophies will be awarded in the race, design and presentation categories, and overall winners will also receive trophies

Electric Car Challenge ( Solar Thermal Magazine) – Aspiring automotive engineers from 27 middle schools across New Mexico will compete in the New Mexico Electric Car Challenge on Saturday, Nov. 22, from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at the Highland High School gymnasium in Albuquerque. Forty-six teams will participate in a race, a design competition and an optional oral presentation.

Two boys design their electric car.
Two McKinley Middle School students meet after school to design and build the model car they will race in this year’s New Mexico Electric Car Challenge on Nov. 22 at Albuquerque’s Highland High School. (Photo by Randy Montoya) Click on the thumbnail for a high-resolution image.

The New Mexico Electric Car Challenge, formerly the New Mexico Hydrogen Fuels Challenge, is presented by Sandia National Laboratories and Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), Public Service Company of New Mexico (PNM), Albuquerque Public Schools, Intel, Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) and Northrop Grumman Corp.

The goals of the challenge are to present science and math concepts to students in a fun and exciting way, encourage team building, stimulate creative thinking and develop students’ writing and presentation skills.

“This event introduces students to engineering careers. Students discover that, in engineering, there isn’t just one right answer, and things don’t always go as expected,” said Amy Tapia, Sandia’s manager of Community Involvement.

At registration, teams received a lithium-ion battery and a direct-current motor that must be used to power the vehicle. The students also received a kit containing a chassis, wheels and gears that they are not required to use. The challenge encourages students to experiment with different body styles and materials to improve their cars’ performance on a 10-meter racetrack.

What: News conference and Electric Car Challenge races and awards ceremony
When: Event is from 9 a.m.-3:30 p.m., news conference starts at 10 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 22.
Where: Highland High School gymnasium, 4700 Coal Ave. SE, Albuquerque.
Who: Media representatives should RSVP to Steve Sandoval of Los Alamos National Laboratory, (505) 665-9206 or [email protected]

Volunteer judges will evaluate the designs for innovation, craftsmanship and appearance and rate the students’ oral presentations.

Katrina Groth, a reliability engineer at Sandia, has judged the challenge for two years and is returning for a third year. “The students start with the project toolkit, but I am looking for evidence that they have gone beyond that to make something bigger and better. I want to see that they’ve thought creatively and logically about how to improve what they started with,” she said.

During the optional oral presentation, students will talk about the challenges faced in the design and marketing of battery-powered electric cars.

“We want the students to have done some research to understand how electric cars are related to our national interest, and to discuss what they learned from this process,” said Groth.

Krystal Irby, a science teacher at McKinley Middle School in Albuquerque, is coaching two teams in this year’s challenge — a team of five sixth- and seventh-graders and a team of six eighth-graders. Irby’s teams work on their electric cars twice a week after school, and she makes the challenge a priority because of the benefits to her students.

“I help them approach a challenge and discover things about themselves like new interests, undeveloped talents and the capacity to solve a problem. After the competition, I see a rise in their self-confidence as they not only completed the project but raced it and presented its design. This is such an important opportunity for students at this age,” she said.

The race involves five qualifying runs and a final head-to-head elimination tournament. Trophies will be awarded in the race, design and presentation categories, and overall winners will also receive trophies. The winning teams’ schools will receive cash awards.

The New Mexico Electric Car Challenge is a result of the collaboration and commitment of several partners to advance science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) programs and opportunities for schoolchildren.

In April 2014, several major employers in New Mexico, including Sandia, LANL, PNM, AFRL and Northrop Grumman, came together to sign a STEM Education in New Mexico Proclamation. The proclamation pledges their help to increase the number of certified science and math teachers by 2020, increase high school students’ proficiency in mathematics, improve college graduation rates in STEM fields and prepare the next generation of STEM educators.

“Through this partnership, we continue to inspire and cultivate the curiosity of students as they consider STEM as a career option,” said Kurt Steinhaus, director of the Community Programs Office at LANL. “This proclamation emphasizes the importance of working together as we ‘grow our own’ and help meet workforce needs in New Mexico.”

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This post was prepared by Solar Thermal Magazine staff.