Friday, June 02, 2023

Solar races

Staff Writer | May 25, 2023 4:44 PM

MOSES LAKE — Fifth-grader Rafaela Arnberg explained the principle behind the propulsion system on her solar race car.

“Basically the energy from the sun hits the solar panel and the solar panel makes the motor move,” she said. Her Knolls Vista classmate Nathalia Anguiano showed the mechanism.

“The motor is attached to this thing here that makes it go,” she said, pointing to the tiny car’s rear axle. “When the solar panel touches the sun, it goes.”

Fifth-graders from schools throughout Grant County built solar cars from a kit and brought them to Big Bend Community College for a day of racing and learning about energy. The annual Solar Car STEM days were sponsored by the Grant County PUD, Big Bend Community College, the Moses Lake School District and REC Silicon.

Fifth graders raced their cars and learned about electricity and how to be around it safely – PUD crews had an entire demonstration showing what happens when electric current flows where it shouldn’t. They learned about manufacturing solar wafers and hydropower.

Moses Lake High School students demonstrated the power of the sun by cooking hot dogs and making s’mores. The idea was to get the hot dogs very well done.

“Our goal here is to set them on fire,” MLHS senior Willem Jansen explained to the fifth-graders. “Our other station had them smoking earlier.”

The hot dogs were on a skewer, feeling the heat from a concave reflector. The trick is placing the reflector at just the right angle to take maximum advantage of the sun’s energy. The second cooker had a slightly better angle, at least in the morning.

“We got this one smoking,” Jansen said, pointing to a row of hot dog slices. “The goal is to get them to catch fire, but we have yet to do that.”

Students in the MLHS precalculus and AP statistics classes volunteered to run some of the exhibits, and many of them were veterans of the solar car races themselves.

“Full circle,” said their instructor Kristy Bishop.

“Very full circle,” MLHS senior Molly Vega said.

There were some lessons at the solar car races for the MLHS students too.

“Stressful,” senior Ava Nunes said.

“You don’t realize how much work goes into it,” Vega said.

The MLHS students were concerned about keeping the fifth-graders interested, Vega said.

“Having s’mores is definitely a motivator,” Nunes said.

It was a good break from the runup to graduation, Vega said, and a chance to do a project with younger students, the way her predecessors did. Looking back on it near the end of their high school careers, the seniors did have some memories of the solar car races.

“I remember it was hot,” Nunes said.

“I remember the racing part,” Jansen said.

He won his races, or at least that’s how he remembered it, he said.

Moses Lake fifth-graders raced their cars Wednesday, and students from other Grant County schools attended Thursday. Annette Lovitt, PUD community engagement public affairs officer, said the sponsors wanted children to learn some of the basics of energy production with a fun project.

“And race their cars,” she said.

Cheryl Schweizer can be reached via email at


Cheryl Schweizer/Columbia Basin Herald

It’s a breathtaking moment for some fifth-grade car owners as the cars leave the starting line.


Cheryl Schweizer/Columbia Basin Herald

Fifth-graders hold their pizza boxes high in an attempt to focus the rays of the sun. The DIY parabolas were part of the Solar Car STEM days at Big Bend Community College.


Cheryl Schweizer/Columbia Basin Herald

Adrian Garcia, left, helps a fifth-grader repair his car during the Solar Car races.


Cheryl Schweizer/Columbia Basin Herald

Car owners react to the fate of their vehicles at the Solar Car STEM event at Big Bend Community College.


Cheryl Schweizer/Columbia Basin Herald

It’s neck-and-neck as solar cars head down the track.

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