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Statewide Electric Car Challenge Sparks Enthusiasm Among Minds

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After a three-year, COVID-induced hiatus, the 2022 New Mexico Electric Car Challenge came roaring back with about 300 middle school participants. Traffic was thick as throngs of kids made their way through the competition, presenting their electric car research and design principles to Sandia judges, and then heading to the drag strip for head-to-head racing.

The statewide challenge, sponsored by Sandia and Los Alamos national laboratories, is a STEM program for students in grades six, seven and eight to build the fastest model electric car capable of holding a payload. Participating schools came from Albuquerque, Bayard, Carlsbad, Española, Ohkayowingeh, Roswell, Ruidoso, Santa Fe, Taos and White Rock.

Student teams began their work in September, and the event held Nov. 19 at Van Buren Middle School in Albuquerque was the culmination of weeks of compelling exploration connecting science and math with hands-on activities outside of the classroom.

Students used a few required materials and specifications to prepare their cars for the 33-foot dragstrip to glory. Each team was responsible for designing and building a AA alkaline battery-powered model racecar within the following specifications:

20 centimeters (7.87 inches) in width.
40 centimeters (15.75 inches) in length.
20 centimeters (7.87 inches) in height.
At least 700 grams (1.54 lbs.) in weight.
Other than the above specifications, teams were free to design their car as they liked using whatever materials they chose to build the fastest electric hotrod — plastic foam, cardboard, plastic, balsa wood and more. Students provided the parts, including wheels, car body, axles and gears. Teams were scored on their research, car design and, yes, speed.

“This is a great event that engages kids in science, technology, engineering and math outside of the classroom,” said design judge and Sandia engineer Rudy Garcia. “They have fun learning to work and problem-solve as a team to make their cars as fast and reliable as possible. Their strategies and tactics are well thought out and presented. It’s pretty exciting to be a part of.”

Sandia’s Community Involvement has hosted the challenge for nearly 20 years to create and nurture hands-on design and application fun for a different feel from textbook problem-solving or even traditional science labs. Goals of the program include:

Present engineering (math and science) concepts in a fun and exciting way.
Create and develop teamwork and team-building skills.
Stimulate creative thinking through a hands-on design project.
Help develop and enhance oral presentation skills.
“These kids bring so much positive energy to this event,” said Deb Menke, community relations specialist at Sandia who organized this year’s event. “They’re very serious about their projects and the competition, but you can see how much fun they’re having, too. Who knows? They could be future engineers.”

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