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Poly’s Engineering Club takes on the Solar Car Challenge

Engineering Club

After two years of coming to campus every Saturday morning, nine Poly Upper School students from the Engineering Club achieved their goal this summer: build a solar car from scratch and race it.

“I started the Engineering Club in 2021, during quarantine, with the idea of competing in the Solar Car Challenge,” shared club founder Aria Wang ‘23. “I saw La Cañada High School’s team compete in the 2018 one in middle school, and I wanted to do the same at Poly.”

“When it was cold, bleak and dark, she kept the light on,” faculty advisor Jack Prater said about Wang, who first reached out to Prater when she created the club. “Through sheer force and will, she kept the team going. It was remarkable.”

Due to Wang’s steadfast commitment to, support of and passion for the team, the Solar Car Challenge’s judges awarded her the Jeff Barnett’s Solar Car Team Spirit Award.

Established in 1993, the Solar Car Challenge is the top project-based STEM initiative in the country, motivating students to take an interest in science and engineering and to increase alternative energy awareness. On alternating years, students either drive their solar cars on the Texas Motor Speedway or drive them cross-country for two weeks from Fort Worth, Texas to Palmdale, California.

To participate in the challenge, students must design, build and test their solar cars themselves. Therefore, Poly’s students spent hours learning a variety of new skills and incorporating each member’s personal interests, such as engineering, physics and business, in order to create the vehicle.

In addition, thanks to the welding expertise and resources of Peter Matthiessen ‘77, the owner of the construction company Matthiessen Builders, and Cesar Angel, a Poly Operations employee, the students learned how to weld and built the car’s steel frame themselves.
This year, the Poly students competed in the first cross-country race the challenge has held since 2018.

Wang, Julian Harrison ‘23, Kai Herman ‘23 and Jonah Goldstein ‘23, who were all Engineering Club members, took turns driving the vehicle as two chase cars followed behind in which the younger members, current juniors Jeremy Hsieh, William Kim, Reese Goldstein, Aikam Singh and Daniel Zheng, helped navigate the vehicle and make sure that there was no oncoming traffic.

Under the blazing hot sun, Poly’s car was able to successfully travel a total of 200 miles, arriving in El Paso, Texas.

“Mr. Prater and I were so impressed with the students because they built the car all on their own,” shared the other faculty advisor, Craig Fletcher. “Every time we faced a problem, the students would always find out what it was and fix it. I was just there to be supportive and give my opinion when they asked for it.”

After three race days, Poly’s team placed second out of five teams in the Classic division, but the race was cut short when most of the judges got COVID.

While the shortening of the race was less than ideal, the students learned a lot and are still thinking of ways to improve their vehicle for the 2024 Solar Car Challenge.

Kim, one of the current leaders of the Engineering Club, shared the group’s upcoming plans: “We hope to build upon last year’s seniors’ efforts and compete even more successfully next year.”

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Ashley Kim, News Editor
Grade: 11 Years on Staff: 3 Fun Fact: I may learn how to drive before I learn how to ride a bicycle… Favorite Book: The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
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