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Southern Hills Students to Race Solar and Hydrogen Fuel Cell Cars Designed and Built in the Classroom; Project Funded by Seagate


LONGMONT, Colo.-While the auto and energy industries search for a favorable solution to the growing demand for a more cost-efficient technology in the renewable transportation fuel sector, a group of sixth graders at Southern Hills Middle School in Boulder are test-driving these technologies as part of a project funded by Seagate Technology. On April 2 at Southern Hills, 1500 Knox Drive, students will put solar and hydrogen fuel cell technology to the test in the school courtyard, racing a fleet of cars they built in the classroom.

Under the direction of their science teacher, Kathy Briggs, the students have spent the last four weeks learning about solar energy and about hydrogen and oxygen -- how an electrical charge can extract these compounds from water to generate a clean-burning gas. Through hydrogen fuel cell technology, this gas is then fed into the fuel cell, which serves as the vehicle’s power source.

“The experiments we did in class helped the students understand the physics behind the technology,” said Briggs.

Once the students understood these concepts, the next step was instruction in the basic assembly of the car parts. With a bit of creative engineering, said Briggs, the students managed to produce more than a dozen miniature models of a simplified hydrogen fuel cell car.

On race day, the courtyard of Southern Hills Middle School will be jammed with student spectators throughout the day, as students race solar- and hydrogen-powered cars around a 20-meter track. The top three winners (one in solar; two in hydrogen) will go on to compete next month in the U.S. Department of Energy’s Junior Solar Sprint/Hydrogen Fuel Cell Car Competition, hosted by the National Renewable Energy Lab in Golden, Colorado.

The Southern Hills project is one of 15 hands-on science programs funded by Seagate this school year through the company’s Science Teacher Grant program, now in its second year. In 2008 the company issued more than $20,000 in grants to K-12 science teachers in the St. Vrain Valley and Boulder Valley School Districts for programs that bring science to life through hands-on applications of scientific principles.

“Our intent with this program is to offer additional resources to the talented and enthusiastic teachers in our community who educate and inspire young people to embrace science in and out of the classroom,” said Andy Davis, Seagate vice president of Design Engineering. “Sometimes it only takes one influential and creative teacher to spark a student’s enthusiasm in a topic he or she might not have taken an interest in before.”

Areas of science considered in the grant program include: biology, chemistry, physics, earth sciences, astronomy and space travel, meteorology and oceanography.

For Briggs, the Seagate grant program allowed her students an opportunity to explore an area of science that could have a major impact on society.

“In an era where much of our known energy is being depleted, discovering other sources and how they can be used efficiently is critical,” she said.

But Briggs is also concerned about a more local issue—the need to inspire more American youth to pursue careers in math and science. In a country where the number of college grads with an engineering degree has declined over more than a decade, she said, “We need to rekindle in our students an interest in technical studies so they can become participants in our competitive world.”

Other teachers and programs receiving Seagate funding this year at the high school level include: “The Physics of Everything,” taught by Forrest Brinker at Boulder Prep; “Space Travel & Lunar Vehicles” led by Nicholas Cady at Centaurus; an Advanced Placement biology program taught by Travis O’Hair at Skyline; and another hydrogen fuel cell project, led by Nicky Sandhu at Silver Creek. At the middle-school level, a grant was issued to teacher Gwenda Dumbold at Westview for her “Rocks Rock!,” an earth-science exploration. Teacher Jessica Feld received funding for “Horizons Weather Scientists” at Horizons K-8 School.

Elementary-school level programs receiving funding include: “Observing Habitats in the Backyard,” taught by Cheryl McCarthy at High Peaks; “Science Court,” a DNA analysis project led by Sally Beckner at Central; “Traveling Science Show,” taught by Kristi Ekern at Fall River; “Third Grade Life Science,” led by Kim Sorrell at Nederland; “Mini MESA After-School Science Program,” led by Jeri Tagawa at Kohl; “Exploring the Human Body,” taught by Lesa White at High Peaks; “Earth Science, Space Science and Scientific Interrelationships,” led by Alison Christopherson at Mead; and “Fifth Grade Smart Cart,” with teacher Barb Aringdale at Burlington.


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