Solar Boats in Stem

By Sydni Porter, Staff Writer — The STEM class embarked on one of their last journeys as freshmen early this April. They were faced with a task the previous two years of STEM students braved: Design a solar powered boat a real life organization, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), could use in their research.

The general idea of the project seems fairly simple, but the details are what set this project apart. Not only do they have to design their vessel, but a grant proposal must be written as if the students were truly designing this for NOAA’s use. Additionally, the built model of the different teams’ designs must be run on solar power, but they also have the option of using battery power as a backup. Each boat must be remote controlled, use recycled plastic bottles, solar panels/battery backup, have a spot in the boat for NOAA’s equipment and avoid tipping over.

“I’m definitely looking forward to the building of our boat,” freshman Cincere Freeman Jones said. “Having fun and working with my teammates is great. Seeing how many boats are actually going to float or sink, and watching the teams frantically try to fix their boat on the test day is just going to be fun.”

Each student plays an important individual role for the team’s success. There are four different positions the group members could choose from.

The project manager, also known as the lead designer, must direct the group throughout the project, as well as in board meetings and construct a project timeline that showcases what was accomplished as time goes on. The historian must research water vessels and solar energy usage, as well as create a timeline detailing the history of boats. The grant writer/chief videographer must write the grant to NOAA, as well as create a video advertising the boat with features and functionality. Lastly, the mechanical engineer, or draftsman, must lead in designing and constructing the ship. They have to develop at least three prototypes of their ship virtually on Google SketchUp as well.

The design and materials used to build each team’s ship is going to make or break how each performs on test day. In previous years, insulating foam was a common material due to its buoyancy, cost efficiency and availability.

Freshmen Alexis Fricker, Kara Schwenk, Marylin Ricarte and Sophia Cashner are collaborating to face the project head on, with their group name being “The Goofy Goobers.”

“I’m excited to just see how many boats are actually going to work,” Fricker said.

Teacher Shawn Kimbrough talked about the challenges he has seen students face in the past, as well as some of his favorite aspects of the project.

“From the first year to now… the project as a whole has pretty much stayed true. Time is really the most challenging aspect, where students see the due date being a month away. But really, they don’t know that they’re going to run into a myriad of problems and they all require time to fix,” Kimbrough said.

Kimbrough went on to say that he feels personally responsible for the projects being able to work well.

“Being able to see the students being successful and watching them overcome adversity is the most rewarding part. There are some students that just throw the solar boat in the grass and say ‘I’m done, it didn’t work, oh well,’ but there are some students that go up to the very end trying to make it right. I like to see that perseverance,” Kimbrough said.

The students’ boats set sail the week of May 9 at Veteran’s Park, across the street from the high school. Depending on weather, the freshmen need to have their boats ready to hit the water any day that week. The STEM students are going to use every chance they can get to prepare for one of their last challenges as freshmen.

[Updated Aug. 19, 2017: This article has been reformatted for consistency.]