Young Minds Gear Up In Dell-Winston Solar Car Challenge

By Barbara Kessler

With gas prices pressuring wallets everywhere and climate change warming the planet, people are looking to the sun for some salvation. It’s paradoxical yes, but so sensible. The sun’s energy burns brightly on Earth and is capable of powering our homes and potentially our cars, if that power can be efficiently harvested.

For the current transportation crisis, it would be a dream solution: An ever-present source of energy powering vehicles with zero emissions. In 2008, however, science has yet to figure out how to make solar cars move as quickly as we’d like them to; carry heavy loads and not peter out when the sun goes down.

Fortunately for us hopeful drivers, the top engineers in the world are now focusing on these issues — as are many motivated college students and even a handful of high school kids.

We caught up with some of those aspiring younger solar engineers recently at the Dell-Winston School Solar Car Challenge in Fort Worth, Texas, where they competed to see who could field a car that could successfully run 400 laps on the 1.5 mile track at Texas Motor Speedway.

The competition has been engaging students from all over the country in solar technology for 15 years, producing cars that amaze their creators with how well and how far they can ride on the sun’s energy. In even years, the teams run cars on the NASCAR track and in the odd-years, they run a cross country race. This year’s race saw them running faster cars, with better solar arrays and specially crafted frames from the latest available metals. The race left the students and the teachers buzzing about the possibilities. Watch the video report.