Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Students Use Racecars to Explore the World of STEM

CVTC camp offers fun way to learn science, engineering

Article Photo - Students Use Racecars to Explore the World of STEM

CVTC STEM Race Camp participants, from left, Hunter Moritz of Menomonie, Rebecca Hansen of Brooklyn Center, Minn., and Evan Eslinger of Chippewa Falls, work together to make adjustments to their car in preparation for the final races, at the CVTC Manufacturing Education Center June 21.

Evan Eslinger manipulated the remote control and tried to keep the car under control while going as fast as possible around a corner of the track. It made sense that he was chosen to be his team’s driver.

“I have one of my own cars at home,” said Eslinger, 14, of Chippewa Falls. “The hardest part is doing the turning, going slow and then fast. My suggestion is to go slower on a curve, so you stay tighter to the inside.”

That’s a principle of physics, one of the hard sciences, and well within the realm of what educators call STEM – science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Increasing interest among young people in STEM subjects, and, ultimately, STEM careers, is the idea behind the annual STEM race camp at Chippewa Valley Technical College, held this year June 18-21 at CVTC’s Manufacturing Education Center in Eau Claire.

“We’re trying to satisfy the kids’ natural interest in science and technology in a fun way,” said CVTC instructor Kurt Carlson. “The racing is the fun part, but they learn about scientific principles like friction, heat, aerodynamics, and safety too.”

Groups of students are provided with scale-model radio-controlled race cars and learn to make modifications on them using STEM principles that might give them an advantage. They also learn about different ways to power the cars.

“We learned about how to use solar and wind power to charge the cars,” said Reid Gibbs, 13, of Chippewa Falls. “We designed our own windmill blades to see how many amps we could get.”

“We used some blades they had here, then made our own based on what we thought would work best,” Eslinger added.

“We learned about foam tires and rubber tires,” said Hunter Moritz of Menomonie. “Depending on the tires, it changes the speed and the traction. You use less friction when you’re on a straightaway. You want more friction when you’re turning.”

The students explored STEM subjects beyond their applications to the race cars.

“They got to use CVTC’s electron microscope investigating a fruit fly,” said Carlson.

Another lesson covered polymers.

“We put the stuff used in diapers in water because it absorbs, and it became like a gel,” Eslinger said. Another kind of polymer is like fake snow.”

And other kinds of polymers are used in model race cars.

“The rubber in the tires is a polymer,” Carlson said. “So is the plastic in the windshield and even the tape they use.”

The camp appeared to accomplish its purpose. The students had fun and it piqued their interest in science.

“My favorite subject in school is science,” Moritz said.

“I’ve thought about going into science because I like experimenting with things,” Gibbs said.

“There’s a national shortage of people going into STEM-related fields, and a lot of STEM jobs are in manufacturing,” said Jeff Sullivan, dean of manufacturing and skilled trades at CVTC. “We want to stimulate interest in these fields among young people who may not realize how exciting and challenging STEM careers can be.”

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