In his teenage days, Scott Barton tooled around in a vintage 1966 Mustang convertible. Now, at 46, he is focused on another set of hot wheels that stands only a few inches high, weighs about 3 to 4 pounds and doesn’t need a gas-guzzling V-8 to scoot down the track.
As an engineering instructor at a college preparatory school in Fort Worth, Barton is coaching six students as they build a sun-powered race car to compete against a dozen other teams before thousands of spectators in late April in Dallas.
The Young Men’s Leadership Academy and other public schools in Fort Worth and Dallas are gearing up for the Solar Rollers competition that will be held in conjunction with Earth Day Texas at Fair Park in Dallas.
Earth Day Texas is billed as the largest Earth Day exposition in the world and is expected to draw more than 100,000 people from April 19-23. Admission is free.
“Solar Rollers has always been exciting and engaging for the students, and now we’re seeing interest from expositions, companies, and spectators worldwide.”
Solar Rollers, which got its start in Colorado, is an energy education program to give students pursuing a STEM education — science, technology, engineering, and math — a nuts-and-bolts exposure to solar-powered mechanics from the ground up.
Working with coaches like Barton, teams design and build the cars’ components and assemble them into small rectangular-shaped vehicles driven by remote control. They then put them to the test in full-bore races that, at least for the participants, can seem as grueling and suspenseful as a full-sized NASCAR race.
The April 22 Earth Day race in Dallas will be the first in Texas and helps mark the program’s inaugural expansion outside its birthplace in Colorado. Another trophy race is also planned for Dubai, the most populous city in the United Arab Emirates.
“Solar Rollers has always been exciting and engaging for the students, and now we’re seeing interest from expositions, companies, and spectators worldwide,” said Solar Rollers Executive Director Noah Davis. “It bodes well for the future of hands-on clean energy education.”
Dallas-based Oncor, the state’s largest electric utility, and Earth Day Texas are sponsoring the daylong Dallas race.
SOLAR ROLLERS WILL FEATURE APPEARANCE BY RACE CAR DRIVER
The Solar Rollers competition will also feature an appearance by race car driver Leilani Munter, an environmental activist and vigorous advocate of solar-powered vehicles. Her website offers this in-your-face declaration: “Never underestimate a vegan hippie chick with a race car.”
Thirteen teams composed of about 80 Dallas and Fort Worth area students are designing and building vehicles for the Fair Park competition. The entries are primarily from STEM-oriented schools in Rockwall, Grand Prairie, Dallas and Fort Worth.
The students receive a kit of materials and are guided by an online course to help construct their racing machines atop a carbon-fiber chassis.
In addition to the satisfaction of racing something they have constructed from the ground up, the participants “get a comprehensive energy education” that many will likely use to shape future careers, said Rebecca Murray, who manages primary and secondary academics programming for Earth Day Texas.
“The Solar Rollers program allows young kids to put STEM education to good use and that’s exactly the kind of skill sets we need for a future workforce in energy.”
“We’re sponsoring Solar Rollers for a lot of different reasons but mainly because we are big proponents of STEM education,” said Oncor spokesman Geoff Bailey. “The Solar Rollers program allows young kids to put STEM education to good use and that’s exactly the kind of skill sets we need for a future workforce in energy.”
As they design and build their cars, says Solar Rollers experts, the students also benefit from problem-solving and teamwork as they map out designs to wring out every second of speed while marshaling enough solar power in their batteries to complete 200 laps. The fastest Solar Rollers cars have exceeded 30 miles per hour, which is actually much faster when measured to scale, said Davis.
Davis said the race cars essentially are motorized solar panels and are roughly the shape of a welcome mat or oven door. High among the challenges facing the team members is finding just the right weight balance as they install the components. An oversize battery, for example, offers longer power but could also add weight to the car.
Barton said his students work on the car each morning during the first period, from 8:30 to 9:30. The team is composed of five sophomores and a freshman, all of whom are in the school’s engineering career path.
“They really like it,” Barton said. “It’s hands-on, it’s solving real problems. It’s not something you pulled out of a textbook. I have gotten nothing but positive feedback from them.”
Go here for more information on the program.
Official list of Entries
Rockwall: Heath High School
Grand Prairie: Collegiate Institute, Dubiski Career High School (two teams), South Grand Prairie
Dallas: Harmony Science Academy, Harmony School of Business.
Garland: Harmony School of Innovation (two teams.)
Fort Worth: Young Men’s Leadership Academy, Young Women’s Leadership Academy, Harmony School of Innovation, Trimble Tech High School
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