Copyright © 2017 Albuquerque Journal
Seventh-grader Grace Maurice and her two teammates from Gonzales Community School in Santa Fe sat at a table directly across from three real-life, working engineers at Albuquerque’s Van Buren Middle School.
On the table in front of them was a small car the team had created using a plastic soda bottle and wheels, zip ties, a lithium-ion battery and a motor.
The team was participating in the annual New Mexico Electric Car Challenge on Saturday and were in the design portion of the competition, in which an expert panel grilled them on everything from the name of their tiny car to its gear ratio.
But intimidation was far from the minds of panel members Sam Moran, Rebecca Cox and Brian Ferri, who work as engineers at Sandia National Laboratories.
“The biggest part of this is it’s a learning process,” Moran said afterward.
Around 300 middle school students from around the state participated in this year’s challenge, which includes racing, oral and design portions.
Teams were provided a battery and motor and were to build a car that could bear the weight of a canister of salt and complete a straight, timed course.
“It’s really designed to help them understand how math and science are involved in engineering,” said Amy Tapia, community relations manager at event sponsor Sandia National Laboratories.
The challenge was also sponsored by Los Alamos National Laboratory and military shipbuilder Huntington Ingalls Industries.
The team representing Albuquerque’s Garfield Middle School experienced some unforeseen difficulties in the racing portion, with their car pulling hard to the left, but it was able to finish three of its five runs.
Eighth-grader Devin Nichlos Santistevan suspected it was a weight distribution issue.
Still, the team was confident they’d score high on the design portion of the competition; they had painstakingly created their car in the image of Tow Mater, a character from the 2006 animated film “Cars.”
“We put a lot of time into making it,” said Johanna Padilla, a sixth-grader.
The team christened the car Tow Morton, an homage to both the film and the salt canister it carried during the race.
“Way more fun than having a kit, right?” said Sondra Lawson, their instructor.
After the design panel had finished, a session, which Grace, from Gonzales, admitted was “scary,” the three-member team relaxed in the cafeteria, waiting for the competition results.
Grace said designing and building the car with her team had been a great opportunity to learn, even if things didn’t always go according to plan.
“I feel like it’s better to learn from your mistakes than to be perfect all the time,” she said.