As the sun rose over El Dorado Park this past Saturday, large groups of middle school and high school students gathered for the Fourth Annual Solar Grand Prix. The event, hosted by Councilwoman Gerrie Schipske and partly sponsored by AMECO, focuses on solar energy education by challenging students to work together to a design, build and race a model car that’s powered by a solar panel.
While checking in teams from 22 different schools in Long Beach, AMECO was able to evaluate each solar-powered model car.
Many teams tried to utilize lightweight materials in hopes that it would increase the speed of their car. One team made a long, sleek frame out of balsa wood while another group used the Styrofoam shell from the packaging of a younger brother’s toy as the body of the car.
Others team got into the technical aspect of the design by trying out new gears, tinkering with the motor or adding traction to their recycled wheels. One team of young women had taken apart an old sewing machine and used some of the parts for the engine — whenever the car ran it sounded like a sewing machine!
We were impressed by the ingenuity and creativity that the students put into their designs. Some of our favorite creative solar cars included a design that looked like the Endeavor space shuttle. Another was doused in glitter to try to increase the amount of sunlight going to the solar panel, also because the team was made up of 12 years old girls.
After every solar-powered model car was registered and reviewed in detail by the judges, the races were set to begin. The appointed rep from each team prepared their solar car at one end of the track, being sure to cover the solar panel with a piece of cardboard. Once the race flag was lowered, off came the cardboard and the sun gave energy to the solar model cars so that they moved down the wooden race track while everyone cheered. Some cars went extremely fast and completed the race in seconds while other cars went at a steady speed. Unfortunately, a few teams experienced technical malfunctions and had to rescue their cars from the middle of the track.
While only a few teams received trophies for being the fastest or having the most innovative design, it was a winning day for all of the Long Beach students and families involved in the Solar Grand Prix. The students enjoyed the process of planning, designing and building their solar models cars as much as the thrill of the competition. All the while, everyone learned about solar power and how it’s clean, renewable energy benefits our community and environment.