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Children turn to solar power to design toy race cars
Students learn about principles of energy
North Hall Middle School eighth-graders Wes Talley, left, 13, and Tristian Keys, 13, check out their solar-powered car Friday after experiencing problems during the 2011 Jackson EMC Junior Solar Sprint. Middle school teams from around the area raced their homemade solar-powered cars in the event held at the Lanier National Speedway in Braselton. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

The challenge was to design a small, fast and innovative solar car.

The goal was to teach students about the principles of energy.

And Hall County students proved they knew their stuff at Friday's 2011 Jackson EMC Junior Solar Sprint. West Hall Middle School raced to a second place finish in the speed category, losing out to Richard Hull Middle School in Gwinnett County. Fourteen teams competed.

"They had a lot of hardship in getting here today, but they took the gold," said Kay Parks, community relations representative for Jackson EMC, about the Gwinnett team, which had to fix its car on the fly using hot glue and duct tape. "Our goal was to increase renewable energy knowledge by using science know-how, creative thinking and experimentation within the schools, thereby encouraging students to pursue careers in the fields of science, math and engineering."

Jackson EMC provided each team a kit that included a motor and solar panel. The model car's design, though, was up to the students.

And Friday afternoon at the Lanier National Speedway in Braselton, the students found out just what their cars could do as they raced around a 65-foot wooden track.

Christopher Arbise of the West Hall team shepherded his team's solar car in a practice run.

Learning about science and being a part of the school's science club provided him with an opportunity to "do some cool stuff with electricity," he said.

And the event is all about applying scientific knowledge in the real world.

For East Jackson Middle School, the experience taught the kids how to build a circuit and work as a team.

"It was totally them," team adviser Heather Duren said.

"They worked so hard and adapted the design of last year's team using Legos to allow the solar panel to be adjustable." Two hinges on the front allowed the panel's angle to change.

The competition also included a design component, where Chestatee Middle School grabbed second.

Kings Bridge Middle School in Jackson County designed a wedge-shaped block called the Flaming Pizza.

"We spent a lot of time on this car and I hope it wins," team member Justin Morgan said. It didn't win in the end, but adviser Justin Schupska said the learning experience was priceless.

Winder-Barrow Middle School took the top spot in that competition. But for adviser Curtis Mathis, the real value of the project is fostering creative thinking that could improve the environment.

North Hall Middle School also competed and won the spirit award.

Times regional staff writer LeAnne Akin contributed to this report.

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