Over a dozen schools around Arizona will race their solar powered go-karts to find out which is fastest at Racing the Sun. Racing the Sun is free to attend and will take place at the Musselman Honda Circuit, at 11800 S. Harrison Rd., April 27 from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Racing the Sun is organized by the University of Arizona Tech Parks as a workforce development project, according to Carol Stewart, associate vice president of UA Tech Parks.
“[Racing the Sun] engages students with a unique opportunity using a hands-on experience and encourages students to see STEM careers as fun,” Stewart said. “The program was designed to spark the interest of high school students and introduce them to career opportunities in technical fields.”
According to Stewart, Southern Arizona is facing a workforce shortage, and ideas for Racing the Sun came out of brainstorming solutions to the shortage.
“Senior leaders of the UA Tech Park were interacting with tenants such as IBM and Raytheon and recognized the need to build a qualified workforce and developed the program to build the pipeline of talent,” Stewart said. “The UA Tech Park is strategically focused in the area of renewable energy and works collaboratively with the power utility, Tucson Electric Power and University of Arizona researchers at the Solar Zone.”
This year will be the eighth year of Racing the Sun, and it has grown significantly since it began. In its first year, Racing the Sun only had three Tucson schools participate with only three go-karts and 30 total students involved, according to its website. This year, 19 go-karts from 16 schools with 160 students in Tucson, Phoenix, Sierra Vista, Rio Rico and the Navajo Nation will participate.
For Racing the Sun, student teams can take on two different challenges. Newer student teams are tasked with modifying a gasoline-powered kart to run on solar energy and batteries, while more experienced teams can build their go-kart from scratch with some exceptions like the motor that is provided by the UA Tech Parks.
Racing the Sun is often a year-long project for the student teams.
“Students are recruited in the beginning of the year and build the kart over the course of a year," Stewart said. "Students attend several workshops in September. And planning, designing and building usually starts in October. The karts are tested at the beginning of April and will race on April 27.”
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UA Tech Parks hopes to expand Racing the Sun and bring in more schools and sponsors.
“We have worked hard to get the word out about this program because the students love it and say they are learning a multitude of skills,” Stewart said. “Beyond the technical skills of building a solar-powered go-kart, the program teaches students soft skills such as communications, teamwork, project management as well as others.”
For more information about Racing the Sun, visit the UA Tech Parks website.
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