This Saturday, on the rooftop of Beale Street Landing's parking garage, kids from across Shelby County will race miniature cars using nothing but sunlight to power them.
The event is part of Memphis Light, Gas, & Water's (MLGW) second annual A-Blazing Race competition, which gives young people in third through eighth grades a chance to enhance their skills in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). The event takes place August 16th from 8 a.m. to noon. It's free and open to the public.
The initiative is MLGW President Jerry Collins' brainchild. He said solar power is becoming more popular and the costs associated with it are becoming more affordable.
"Solar power is a green power source [that] works beautifully when the sun is shining," Collins said. "Our solar car race promotes green power, and it educates youth about energy and teamwork. It's a lot of fun."
- A participant in last year’s MLGW solar car race
About 40 kids attended an MLGW engineering workshop last month, where they were taught scientific principles regarding friction, aerodynamics, energy, and transmission. They were also taught the design process engineers utilize when creating a product.
Participating kids purchased a $24 model solar car kit that contains a solar panel and motor. They were given several weeks to use the kit along with other materials to design and build their model solar cars, which will operate completely on the conversion of sunlight into electricity.
As long as model cars are roughly 30 x 60 x 30 centimeters, kids can use anything from coke cans to plastic bottles to create their devices. For example, last year's winning solar car was composed out of a Girl Scout cookie box.
Daniel Hochstein, project engineer for MLGW, said the solar panel collects energy from the sun, converts it into electricity, and transmits it to the model cars' motors, enabling the wheels on the structures to turn, moving them forward.
Hochstein said he thinks learning to build model solar cars might pique kids' interest in STEM-related careers.
"I think it's important to have careers in those fields because it helps society as a whole to improve and advance, to problem solve, come up with new solutions, and new alternatives," Hochstein said. "It's part of the reason everybody has a cell phone now and that cars are so rampant ... science, technology, engineering, and math over the years have developed new products that make living easier and more convenient."
There will be two divisions for the event: One division will be for kids in the third through the fifth grades. The second division will be for kids in grades six through eight. Each team can consist of two to eight kids.
Model solar cars will race in a series of head-to-head elimination rounds on a 20-meter racecourse. Whoever completes the race in the shortest possible time will be crowned the winner.
MLGW spokeswoman Tamara Nolen said she thinks solar power is the future for utility companies. She also said youth participating in the A-Blazing Race competition could potentially heighten their chances of enjoying successful careers as adults.
"If we can catch them in an early age, after they've got the basics down, hopefully they can take it onto high school and college and hopefully start thinking about careers," Nolen said. "Maybe [they could even] work for us one day at MLGW as an engineer."