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One Super Car is Never Enough

One Super Car is Never Enough
Posted on 01/10/2019

STEM students from Wheat Ridge High School and Warren Tech pose with three ultra-energy-efficient vehicles they both designed and built.Everybody knows about strength in numbers. STEM students at Wheat Ridge High School and STEM students at Warren Tech are proving that through a successful partnership in creating a small fleet of future cars – supercars if you will – that are ultra-energy-efficient. This collaboration in the workshop at Wheat Ridge High School is the result of a conversation between Wheat Ridge STEM instructor, Charles Sprague, and his STEM counterpart at Warren Tech, Nate Olsen.

“I contacted Chuck and said, ‘I know you are in the Shell Eco-Marathon, uh we’d like to get a car put together. How did you do it? How do we do it?’” explained Olsen.

Each year, the Shell Eco-Marathon challenges young engineers from around the world to design, build, test, and drive their creations. Wheat Ridge has participated four times, winning first place twice in the hydrogen fuel cell category. It was that expertise into which Warren Tech wanted to tap.

“One of the things I really enjoyed seeing was the students from Warren Tech and the students from Wheat Ridge all helping each other and throwing ideas out,” said Sprague. “‘What about this and what about that?’ It’s really nice to have another school to work with and bounce ideas off of. It’s just been great.”

For their most recent Eco-Marathon competition in California, Wheat Ridge entered two hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, a sporty little white model and a red, urban concept.

“Every year, we make modifications to make it more sophisticated from the viewpoint of just statistically it has not gotten better because it has gotten third [place]. But manufacturing-wise it has gotten a lot better; easier to produce, easier to manufacture, things like that,” said Wheat Ridge student Ali Hilton.
The urban concept car is more of a street-legal vehicle.

“It has to have the windshield wipers, blinkers, headlights, all the stuff you would see on a production car. So, [it’s] a lot more complex than maybe the prototype vehicle, not taking anything away from that, but more the street-legal feel,” explained Wheat Ridge student Ian Clark.

“We did pretty well. We made it through tech inspection. We didn’t get a qualifying run, unfortunately,” added Wheat Ridge student Teresa Kenison. “But we did learn a lot. We learned a lot about our mechanical design and stuff with electrical, which we will work on and improve.”

Even though they didn’t move further in the competition this time, they were still the first high school team in Colorado to get both cars through the Shell Eco-Marathon tech inspection in the same year, which they consider a great success. All the while, they shared their tips and tricks with the Warren Tech STEM newcomers. Warren Tech’s three-wheeled, hydrogen cell prototype came in second behind Duke University.

“For us, I feel like it was an extremely unique experience because we only had six weeks to prepare, unlike Wheat Ridge – they had a full year,” explained Warren Tech student Arianna Montoya. “We were given our six-week deadline, and we hit the ground running. We didn’t get our fuel cell until we were actually in California on our second day in the paddock and we installed our fuel cell in eight hours.”

“When we look at this competition in general, you know we had, I would say, maybe a few more resources that they needed but also, they had a few more resources that we needed,” added Warren Tech student Drake McCain. So, it was a good partnership where we could ebb and flow with things that would make our cars really successful in the end.”

And that’s what is vital about this partnership to Sprague.

“When it comes down to it it’s about the kids and the students being able to learn all these different techniques and how to put things together in a very multi-faceted system,” he said.

“I didn’t know anything about how a hydrogen fuel cell worked or why carbon fiber was a useful material to use to build out of. But then, going into the program, it helped me learn how to machine stuff; what you build stuff out of to make it strong and reliable,” said Wheat Ridge student TJ Arbuckle.

It’s likely the two schools will continue their collaboration and will do more learning and growing as their fleet of supercars improves, but they will also be in the unique position of being rivals each time they put one of their designs on the test track.

“Of course, you always want to win. But at the same time, you’re learning from each other, and you’re gaining things from this. So, there’s no keeping something hidden from the other team just for your advantage,” said Hilton. “What they gain from you, you learn from them. So, it’s a very friendly rivalry.”

“It’s all about camaraderie and helping each other out and in the end having the kids have some type of problem-solving and troubleshooting event,” added Olsen.

“It’s been cool knowing that another team from Colorado is trying to do the same thing and pretty successful at what they do,” said Clark.

In continuing this partnership, Sprague has big plans for his students and future Shell Eco-Marathons.
“We’re saying maybe this can be the beginning of Colorado sending three, four, five high school teams and all working together in Jeffco and I think that would be great,” he said.

See the JPS-TV version of this story here or below.

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