Summer Camp's Solar Car Makes Way To Bullard High School
By KELLY GOOCH Staff Writer
BULLARD -- After navigating through rain and technical difficulties, a team of students from across North Texas seemed eager to show off their solar car Thursday afternoon.
The students, who built the car during a four-week summer camp at The University of Texas at Dallas, worked quickly to take it out of a trailer, where it was placed after it broke down about a mile away from Bullard High School. It was the final destination after an approximately 100-mile, hours-long trek from Seagoville to East Texas.
Dr. Ken Berry, assistant director of the Science and Engineering Education Center at UT Dallas and the camp director, said the technical problems are typical of an experimental vehicle.
"We were monitoring temperature. We were monitoring speed. We were monitoring the temperature of the motor, the temperature of the batteries, the (amplifier) flow, the voltage flow from the batteries and the whole flow of energy through the car...,", he told Bullard teachers, administrators and parents who showed up for the car's entrance.
"Some wires were loose and then something shorted out. That's what we know at the moment. We hope to hook up the batteries, and we'll be able to drive around some real soon. Hopefully we're going to fix it and then we'll drive it until it breaks again."
Although there were technical issues on the way to Bullard, it didn't seem to damper the pride students had in their finished product and the journey they went through to build it.
Sam Tunnell, a sophomore at Denton High School, said the 20-man team worked hard on the car and learned about many things after the first week, such as different kinds of wiring, voltage, current and torque.
In the second week, they got into teams and began designing a mockup model version of the car out of wood, which was used to measure dimensions and the weight of everything, he said. Then a team started working on solar panels, finding out how much power was necessary and how much power the car was going to get. According to a news release, students modified and outfitted a go-cart chassis with four solar panels provided by Texas-based 1SolTech.
"It's been a great experience. We've all done a lot," Tunnell said.
That includes Bullard High School senior Austin Gwartney, who welded and served as a project leader.
He said it was a fun but stressful experience because four weeks did not provide much time, and they were working with an $11,000 budget.
Still, Gwartney, who wants to be a mechanical engineer, said he took away important lessons, such as learning how to plan better.
Effective communication among team members also was challenging, Tunnell said in a news release.
"We had to learn all the tricks of the trade and about the tools we were using, like how to weld, how to solder and how to use different kinds of drills," he said "But it was really hard communicating information to each other. We were all getting very frustrated, but we learned to deal with it."
In the end, team members completed the work with guidance from UT Dallas students in the Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science, who did the solar car project as part of a senior design course.
According to a news release, the goal is for the vehicle to go through a comprehensive judging process called "scrutineering" at the 2012 Solar Car Challenge at the Texas Motor Speedway. Judging is slated for Tuesday.
While judges will give the team feedback, the car will not compete against other high school teams officially entered in the challenge, said Bullard High School teacher Stacy Gwartney, who observed the summer camp and had two students participating.
A news release states that the vehicle will then stay at UT Dallas, where college students will continue to work on it and possibly enter it in future solar car events.
This school year, Ms. Gwartney's students plan to build a car of their own for possible entry in next year's Solar Car Challenge.
"Next year's race we would enter would be a road race from Texas to Pasadena, Calif.," she said. "With this project, we will need a lot of (community) support (as far as resources)."
She said it will need to go at least 55 miles per hour. Drawings and other paperwork will need to be submitted by April, and the car must be built by next summer.
Until then, Ms. Gwartney said in a news release she is excited about the learning opportunities a solar car project will offer her students.
"I was amazed to see how Dr. Berry incorporated chemistry, physics and engineering," she said. "For my senior students it will really bring home all the sciences we cover, plus they'll learn about alternative energy sources. As an overall project, it's the way to go."
Students attending a summer camp at The University of Texas at Dallas were among those on hand to help move a solar car built during the camp. The car traveled from Seagoville to Bullard High School on Thursday. (Staff Photo By Kelly Gooch)