EEVC at the 2019 High School Physics Olympics at Henderson High School

The Eastern Electric Vehicle Club (EEVC) was represented at the Physics Olympics held at Henderson High School in West Chester, Pennsylvania on Saturday March 2, 2019. This annual event is a science olympiad in which students from several high schools compete in a combination of scholastic activities. Some of the events include a bridge building competition, a physics relay that consists of both physics questions and physical challenges and a model electric vehicle competition. Student teams from each high school vie for points in each of the competitions, with trophies awarded at the conclusion of the day to the teams with the highest point totals. In truth, everyone is a winner in this enthusiastic and fun filled day.

Members of the EEVC contributed to the event by helping to run the electric car competition and then presenting the EEVC Ron Groening Memorial Plaque for Excellence in Engineering to the student team whose vehicle they felt was best designed for the competition. Alan Arrison and Jim Natale worked the electric car registration table, checking in and evaluating each model electric vehicle entry. As the competition began, they manned the track, timing the performance of each vehicle and measuring distance traveled for any vehicle that strayed outside the track boundary. EEVC members Alan Arrison, Jim Natale, Carl Grunwald and club president Oliver Perry reviewed the overall engineering design merits of the top racing vehicles. They selected the vehicle they deemed best represented excellence in engineering design toward this year’s electric vehicle competition requirements. The EEVC team then awarded the high school students who had designed this model electric car with the Eastern Electric Vehicle Club’s Ron Groening Memorial Plaque for Excellence in Engineering at the closing ceremonies of the 2019 High School Physics Olympics.

The guidelines for the electric vehicle competition for this year's Physics Olympics were unique, and introduced new concepts and build requirements. The car was to be built using two 9 volt batteries and a motorized propeller to drive the vehicle down a straight away. The track was about 3 feet wide and extended from the baseline of a basketball court to the basketball half court line. The built car needed to include two working “head lamps.” This required knowledge of electric circuit design to balance the voltage across the lamps while still providing power to the propeller shaft motor. In addition to the required design components, this year’s electric vehicle competition awarded points on the basis of a formula:

Points = (mass of the vehicle in grams * distance traveled) / time in seconds

Points were thus gained by the judicious combination of vehicle design weight and attainable speed. Based on the formula, the heavier the vehicle weighed divided by the lower the time down the track amassed the most points for a given competitive run.

Organizers of the Physics Olympics Electric Vehicle Competition creatively introduce new ideas to each year's electric vehicle challenge. While vehicle speed is often key to scoring in the event, this year’s competition changed the equation by making vehicle mass an integral component of the scoring formula. Also, this year’s car design did not couple the drive motor to the wheel, shifting design focus from gear ratios of a power train to the thrust of a motorized propeller.

As each vehicle completed its run, the vehicle times were recorded. Each vehicle had been previously “weighed in” and held at the registration table until race time. The mass at weigh-in was combined with the time and distance down the track to calculate a vehicle point score. After all student teams had completed their time trials down the track, the results were tabulated to determine a winner of the overall Physics Olympics Model Electric Vehicle Competition. The top eight performing cars are selected for evaluation for its award for best engineering design. After some deliberation four finalists remained.

The introduction of new vehicle design elements of a propeller for propulsion, headlights, and a point formula that balanced both mass and speed considerations surely challenged the creativity and science skills of the students. Each of the four finalists for the EEVC award exhibited insight and excellence toward meeting these challenges. As the vehicles were reviewed by the judges, one of the key concepts which came to the fore was the decision to maximize for mass vs speed in the design. The final four contestants for the EEVC’s award appeared evenly divided in designing for high mass or high speed, with two lightweight and two relatively heavy vehicles. Some of the vehicles selected for review also seemed to hone in on the importance of low rolling resistance to moving a heavy object from rest, as much attention and detail was given to the wheel to frame attachment and wheel choice. It was observed that, at least in this competion, the heavier designed vehicles were able to accumulate the most points based on the scoring formula.

After much review and discussion, the judges from the EEVC awarded the Ron Groening Memorial Plaque for Excellence in Engineering to the participants from Pennsbury Highschool, Nathan Thomas and Brandon Firestone. Recognizing the excellent skills and effort of all of the finalists, the EEVC gave honorable mention to the three other teams and their vehicles that had been chosen for review. Below is a summary of each of the award winning and honorable mention vehicles.

 

EEVC Ron Groening Memorial Plaque for Excellence in Engineering

Pennsbury High School: Nathan Thomas / Brandon Firestone

Design Highlights: This vehicle led the field in overall scoring with a significantly high point total. The heavy weight vehicle design emphasized mass by using a heavy wood block frame. It featured several strong design elements that include the propeller design, low rolling resistance for the wheels and good circuit design. The propeller positioning maximized thrust by being mounted high at the rear of the vehicle, placing it in maximum contact with the air by its location up and away from the body of the vehicle. The wheel design used large CD wheels with a low friction mount to the vehicle body. The circuitry of this vehicle was well designed. It maximized the voltage delivered by the battery and used low voltage LEDs as light sources. This was the heaviest of the 4 finalist vehicles, and it could be seen from the design how the focus on propeller thrust, low rolling resistance and high voltage output enabled the car to move and carry a large mass. The vehicle’s high point score validated the effectiveness of its engineered design toward meeting the requirements of the competition.

 

Honorable Mention

Cinnaminson High School: Eileen Yizzi

Design Highlights: This vehicle boasted a solid overall construction and aerodynamic design. Made from lightweight balsa wood and sturdy wheels, this vehicle was built for speed. The car featured excellence in wheel design. It used large, sturdy plastic CDs for wheels with a low friction, solidly engineered coupling to the axle body. These design features gave the vehicle extremely low rolling resistance and a true path, both of which certainly contributed to its observed high speed down the track. The car also applied a unique 4 blade propeller design.

Cinnaminson High School: Nick Hite / Tyler Fedorko

Design Highlights: Nick-named by the students as “cable car” for its brightly colored wiring, the true standout feature of this vehicle was the propeller assembly. It contained a shroud around the propeller and was carefully mounted above the vehicle frame to minimize the obstruction of air flow to the propeller blades. The body of the vehicle was made from styrofoam suggesting that the students optimized for high speed in capturing points for the competition.

Henderson High School: Bryce Erickson / Faris Ali

Design Highlights: This vehicle was a sleek low center of gravity dragster. Solidly built and conceived, its standout feature was the ability to interchange weights along the outer frame of the car. Although the weight of each car was fixed at vehicle registration, the ability to add or subtract weight would have been a valuable resource during the development and test phase of the vehicle design. It would have allowed the students to instantly observe the interplay of adding or deleting mass to the overall speed and point total calculations for their vehicle. This vehicle did well in the points totals finishing second overall. The vehicle had a relatively heavy mass. It also had a propeller design that extended the propeller back from the rear of the car.

 

In a competition that introduced a number of thought provoking design considerations, especially where one design choice may not have yielded an obvious advantage, the point equation was a key determinant in the winner of this year’s EEVC Award. The selected car was well engineered to meet the requirements for the event. The Pennsbury High School students Nathan Thomas and Brandon Firestone are the winners of this year’s EEVC Ron Groening Excellence in Engineering award. Congratulations to these students and all who participated in the High School Physics Olympics Electric Vehicle Competition!

Eastern Electric Vehicle Club