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Local high schools participate in solar car competition

November 11, 2019

Students from Belvidere High School in Belvidere, Ill. and Hiawatha High School in Kirkland, Ill., participated in a solar-powered car competition at Anderson Hall on the NIU campus as part of an interactive program to promote interest in science, technology, engineering, and math careers.

The Interactive Virtual Laboratory, sponsored by a grant from the National Science Foundation, hosted students as part of a program called “Using Renewable Energy, Experiments to Enhance Student Engagement in STEM.” The program is run each semester and is led by engineering technology professor Andrew Otieno and professor Liping Guo of NIU’s College of Engineering and Engineering Technology (CEET).

The high school students visited the campus, took a tour of the engineering facilities, and were provided with a solar car kit. They spent two weeks in their classrooms building their cars. The object of the competition was to see which team’s car would run the fastest when powered by simulated sunlight. Students had a chance to learn from and be mentored by Otieno and a number of electrical and mechanical engineering graduate students at NIU.

“It was a lot of fun and a lot of trial and error to get a product that worked,” said Isaiah Sosa, a junior and AP environmental science student at Belvidere High School. “We rebuilt it eight times. We learned about teamwork and how to work together.”

“It was great to see their collaboration and motivation. They were really excited,” said Elizabeth Gonzalez, teacher of physics, chemistry, and science at Belvidere High School.

Each group was given a practice run and two chances to record their fastest time, followed by a final round for the top five groups.

Hiawatha teams took the lead, and prizes were awarded to first place, second place, and third-place teams.

The competition will run again in the spring. High school classes from schools across the area are invited to participate by contacting Professor Otieno at [email protected].

For more information about CEET, visit