Paired into teams, seventh and eighth grade gifted students from across the Laveen Elementary School District met to participate in a solar car design challenge sponsored by Mathematics Engineering, Science Achievement (MESA), a university-based outreach program and Quantum Energy & Sustainable Solar Technologies (QESST), an engineering research center based on the Arizona State University Campus.
The teams were given a tub of 400 LEGO Mindstorm pieces, a small solar panel, and a solar powered motor as materials to build their cars. The only instructions given were to design a solar powered car that would make it to the finish line.
Some teams sketched out car designs before assembling them — taking weight and the position of the sun into account. Others jumped right in, designing as they went along.
After the vehicles were completed, students set up their cars at the starting line. On the count of three, students released their cars to see which design could travel the farthest.
This challenge will help prepare students for upcoming MESA engineering competitions. The regional tournament takes place in February and the state competition is in April.
The MESA program operates in eight states. In Arizona, it is supported by Arizona State University’s Fulton School of Engineering and the University of Arizona. The goal of MESA is to provide minorities, low-income, and first generation college-bound students a strong academic foundation in math and science. QESST is a research center funded, in part, with a grant from the National Science Foundation.
The workshop was led by QESST Pre-College Education & Outreach Coordinator Christi Mendoza along with three ASU graduate students.