Arizona students create solar-powered go-karts to compete in statewide Racing the Sun competition

Partners, Science, Technology, Top story

By Erica Apodaca | Cronkite News

TUCSON – For the past several months, Morgan Smith has hunched over the framework for a small go-cart in a classroom littered with metal shavings at his Tucson high school.

Smith, a senior at Palo Verde High Magnet School, will compete later this month in the sixth-annual Racing the Sun event. This is his second year at the race.

“This is the first year we have decided to build our own cart instead of using an existing model,” Smith said, adding that his team named their cart Eleanor.

Tech Parks Arizona at the University of Arizona hosts the event and invites high school students from across the state to design, build and race solar-powered go-karts.

Bruce Wright, the associate vice president of Tech Parks Arizona, said the primary goal is to get young students excited about the areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. (Photo by Erica Apodaca/Cronkite News)
Bruce Wright, the associate vice president of
Tech Parks Arizona, said the primary goal is to get young students excited about the areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. (Photo by Erica Apodaca/Cronkite News)

Bruce Wright, the associate vice president of Tech Parks Arizona, said the program’s goal is to “try to get young people excited about (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) and help them to pursue a career in these areas or certainly go to college and study these areas.”

He said the students not only learn how to build the carts, they also must make presentations explaining their goals for the solar carts.

Wright said the program started small, the first race only having three entries. Now, nearly a dozen schools participate.

Some schools have as many as three entries, one cart competing in each category.

Smith said his team wants to compete in the “maker kart” category. They’ve been working all year to construct a go-cart that can outlast the others.

Morgan Smith, a senior at Palo Verde Magnet High School, prepares his solar-powered go-kart. (Photo by Erica Apodaca/Cronkite News)
Morgan Smith, a senior at Palo Verde Magnet High School, prepares his solar-powered go-kart. (Photo by Erica Apodaca/Cronkite News)

“Last year, we learned the basics of the frame and time management, it was down to the last two weeks when we were just finishing the cart,” he said.

This year, the team has nearly finished the cart with time to spare.

Smith said he was introduced to engineering at school, and he grew to love it.

“The teacher here at this level basically lets us pick our project and go build it,” Smith said. “We don’t have to stick to a particular curriculum.”

Smith said he plans to join the Navy’s nuclear engineering program after graduation, adding that his dream is fairly simple: He wants to do engineering and get his hands dirty.

The event is scheduled for April 29 at the Musselman Honda Circuit in Tucson. Wright said they’ve had such success with the race, they’d like to extend it to middle schools.

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