October 21, 2009

Two 4-H'ers work on their radio controlled car.
Two 4-H'ers work on their radio controlled car.
Using calculations, creativity and a little bit of duct tape, 16 west Kentucky high school students acted as race car engineers on a quest to build a faster, more efficient radio-controlled car during FastTrack Racing Challenges. 

The challenges were part of a four-day camp put on by the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service at the UK College of Engineering Campus in Paducah to nourish and increase the students' interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. 

During the camp, the 4-H'ers worked in teams of four to build two types of wings for their car -- wings that would increase the vehicle's downforce, thus increasing its speed. Engineering students at UK's Paducah campus used computer aided drafting to help the high school students design their wings. In addition to wing design, 4-H'ers learned about gear ratios, marketing strategies, different types of tires and how to increase fuel efficiency.

"This is not just textbook learning," said Torey Earle, UK extension agent-at-large for 4-H Science Engineering and Technology. "They're actually designing something on the computer, bringing it to a prototype and then testing it."

Teams determined which member was the fastest driver of the car. As on any professional racing team, the driver became the primary source of feedback for the efficiency of their wing designs, which were then re-engineered or tweaked for improvements.

Two students take measurements for their radio controlled car.Teams competed against each other in several time trials throughout the week. The trials were based on realistic scenarios professional racing teams would face. For instance, the 4-H'ers competed for the fastest time in a pit stop challenge. The driver guided the car into the pit stop, and the other team members changed all four tires and the battery (the car's fuel source). Each trial was worth points, and the team with the most at the end of the week won the group's FastTrack Cup.

The majority of 4-H'ers had some previous experience through engineering-related classes at their high schools or a strong interest in the field. They were from high schools in three different counties plus a home school group.

 "I felt this would give me some insight and I'd learn how to build and work on the cars," said Anthony Dawdy, a junior at Marshall County High School who has an interest in radio controlled cars and plans on becoming a mechanic.

Two 4-H'ers, with the help of their parents and Christian County 4-H agent Toni Riley, daily made a one-way, 1.5 hour drive from Hopkinsville. Kayleigh Graves was one of those students. The Hopkinsville High School junior plans on majoring in engineering in college and saw the camp as a way to get a head start on her future plans.

"It's been a great experience, and if you're looking at engineering as a career field, it gives a lot of insight into that program," she said.

While this was the first time for the camp, Earle plans to have more in the future with the hopes of offering two camps a year.

The Society of Manufacturing Engineers, Kentucky 4-H Foundation, Purchase Area 4-H council and other local contributors made donations for the camp.