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Breaking News:

Green Lightning prepared to strike

St. John’s College’s team ready to put their solar car to the test at Texas Motor Speedway
  • (Top) Father Shazz Turnquest, left, St. John’s College physics teacher with students involved in the building of their Green Lightning solar car, which they will race in the 2017 Solar Car Challenge in Fort Worth, at the Texas Motor Speedway this week. The Green Giant’s team will be among teams from 36 U.S. states, Mexico, Costa Rica and Puerto Rico, driving for four days at the world famous speedway, which will begin on Wednesday, July 19 at the track in Fort Worth, Texas and ends Saturday, July 22. This year’s race will feature a new racing division — the Electric-Solar Powered Car — a division that will feature a two-passenger electric car powered by permanent charging stations, bringing “realism” to solar car racing. ROYANN DEAN

Guardian Lifestyles Editor

Published: Jul 17, 2017

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The solar car has been built, and St. John’s College’s (SJC) students are making ready to put their vehicle to the test this week among the 181 high schools scheduled to participate in the 2017 Solar Car Challenge.

The Green Giant’s team will be among teams from 36 states, Mexico, Costa Rica, and Puerto Rico, driving for four days at the world famous Texas Motor Speedway, which will begin on Wednesday, July 19 at the track in Fort Worth, Texas and ends Saturday, July 22. This year’s race will feature a new racing division — the Electric-Solar Powered Car — a division that will feature a two-passenger electric car powered by permanent charging stations, bringing “realism” to solar car racing.

The Solar Car Challenge is an educational program designed to help motivate students in science, engineering and alternative energy. Students are taught how to plan, design, engineer, build, race and evaluate roadworthy solar cars.

Teams began their participation in the year-long project during educational workshops in September 2016. Additional workshops, on-site visits, mentor opportunities and camps, helped propel the project to success. After qualifying, teams get the opportunity to drive their solar cars at the speedway.

While a number of sponsors stepped up to help SJC build their Green Lightning entry, in the weeks leading up to the team’s departure, Pia Farmer, director at Easy Car Sales, the provider of 100 percent electric vehicles (EVs) in The Bahamas, said her company actively supports the efforts of Fr. Shazz Turnquest, the project lead and physics teacher.

At the school’s annual Mardi Gras fair, Easy Car Sales featured the solar-ready Nissan LEAF alongside another innovative car — SJC displayed the eco-friendly, solar powered car they designed and built to compete in the Solar Car Challenge.

“Easy Car Sales is proud to support our best and brightest students to take up the renewable energy challenge. It’s time to change how we think about transportation and move to cleaner, cheaper and stress-free transportation for The Bahamas,” said Farmer. “Electric cars are here to stay and can be powered by solar energy today. I have been driving my 100 percent electric Nissan Leaf for almost three years, and I charge it from solar panels at home.”

Father Turnquest envisions a Bahamian future in which solar powered vehicles are designed and built by Bahamians.

“We owe it to our young people to help them to realize their potential by introducing them to the technology of the future,” said the physics teacher.

His students built a full-sized solar powered car that incorporates the latest technology and design specifications for the race.

The solar car that the SJC team will put into the competition is only allowed to have 250 pounds worth of batteries, which would require a delicate balancing act between the electric motor drawing down from the battery and the solar panel trickle charging the battery. The output the car gets would depend on how the student drives the car. The minimum speed they have to run is 20 to 25 miles per hour.

The students were responsible for designing and building the car from the ground up. They were able to take direction and guidance from their teachers and industry leaders, and are required to market their vehicle to show proficiency in their design methodologies.

The STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics)-based initiative will have numerous benefits for the students participating in the building of the solar powered car, according to Father Turnquest, the project lead and physics teacher.

“In education today, especially in The Bahamas, everything is book-driven. We’re trying to embrace a lot of technology in the classrooms, a lot of whiteboards and computers, but there are so many talented children who are falling through the cracks who are excellent with their hands — they can build things, they can draw things, they create things — and the curriculum has to be modified to allow for them to also engage … for them to shine, and for them to feel good about their learning,” said Turnquest.

Through the building of their solar powered car Turnquest is hoping the process will teach the students logistics, how to plan a project, how to execute a project, how to work as a team, how to think, and how to problem solve — things he said that are best learnt by project-based initiatives such as their solar powered car project.

“The program is really beneficial for them because what it does is exposes them to students from all over the United States. It helps them to develop their resumes and opens doors to scholarships for them. College and university scholarship boards are looking for diversity and innovation in the academic career of children — it’s not just academics. They have to be well-rounded.”

The students involved in the project include 12th grade Justin Sweeting, the school’s head boy, who is also the team leader, and who came up with the design for the car’s drag train; as well as Marcinko Arthur, Munir Gharbaran, Richard Hamma and Ralph Sealy.

Eleventh grade team members include two females: Deniel Rolle, who designed the logo for the team’s memorabilia and Dwayna Archer, both of whom Turnquest described as “brilliant students”. Rounding out the team are Darren Butler, Kevaughn Pratt, Giovannie Embleton, Cephas Pinder, Khyree Rolle, Delton Rolle and Aaron Springer.

“The team is made up of 11th and 12th grade students … physics and mathematics students who want to be able to have a hands-on experience of physics, and not just a bunch of equations and a bunch of math. They want to be able to actually do something,” he said.

The idea of the students building the car with a view to racing in the challenge started with school principal Dr. Nevillene Evans, who Turnquest said shared the vision for St. John’s to embrace renewable energy and wanting to find ways for students to work on solar car models.

In 1993, the Winston Solar Car Team launched an education program to provide curriculum materials, on-site visits and workshop opportunities for high schools across the United States. The program, originally a part of The Winston School (Dallas, TX), was designed to motivate students in the sciences, engineering and technology. The end product of each two-year education cycle is the Solar Car Challenge: a closed-track event at the Texas Motor Speedway, or a cross-country race designed to give students an opportunity to display their work. The Winston Solar Education Program has been shared with more than 900 schools in 20 countries.

The first challenge in 1995 attracted 90 schools, leading to nine schools actually building cars for the 1995 race. Three cars qualified to run. The 1997 challenge grew to over 350 schools in five countries. Eight cars qualified to run the 1997 race, a 600-mile cross-country event from Dallas to San Antonio. The 1999 race, a 1,600-mile event from Dallas to Los Angeles, saw eight teams enjoy the fun of high school solar car racing. The 2001 race started in Round Rock, TX at Dell Computers and traveled 1,400-miles to Columbus, Indiana. In 2003, 10 challengers endeavored to race from Round Rock, TX to the Florida Solar Energy Center, Cocoa, FL. The challenge has grown to host 18 solar car teams in 2014 with more teams starting to build cars each year.


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