GHS AP Physics Teacher

For the third year running, the majority of eighth graders at Gorham Middle School (GMS) participated in the Junior Solar Sprint (JSS) Challenge on May 30 at GMS. In the past, the JSS was sponsored through the Maine Energy Education Program. This year, the ownership was passed to Sacopee Energy and Climate Activities as one of their STEM program offerings.

Students worked in teams in their science classes for a few weeks to design, build, and make continuous improvements to their solar cars. They selected materials, worked with tools, and tried to problem solve when their cars veered off in the wrong direction. Many students created custom parts using 3-D printing technology. Race day arrived with a bit of lingering rain and wet surfaces, so the Solar Sprint became a Mock Solar Sprint in the gym, with battery-powered solar panel replicas in place of the real panels.

Photo credit Terry Bartick
Eighth grader Riley Johnson won two first place awards in the categories of Innovation and Technological Merit at the Junior Solar Sprint Challenge in South Paris in June.

Each science class held qualifying races to ferret out the top competitors. Some crowd favorites were the car that lost a wheel but finished anyway and the races that were classic tortoise and hare, where one car would start strong but falter and a slower but steadier car would nip it near the end. Some cars that worked well in practice would struggle in the race, and others that seemed doomed to stay stuck in the gate surprised everyone and finished strongly.

At the end of the day a championship heat was held, and then 15 of the top cars were invited to the State Championship held at the Paris Elementary School in South Paris on June 3. Of the 15 students invited, two were able to find room in their busy weekend schedules to head to the competition.

Riley Johnson and Madisun Tryon both raced their cars at the competition. Both cars performed well. Johnson’s car won a sprint and made it to the semi-finals. Tryon’s car was the runner-up in one of her heats. In addition, Johnson’s original car design captured two first place awards in the categories of Innovation and Technological Merit.

The students at GMS did a fantastic job and a big thank you to all of the community support they received. Much of the equipment was purchased through grants received from the Gorham Educational Foundation, Berlin City Drive for Education, and the Perloff Foundation. There were also several parent volunteers who helped coordinate logistics for the day, for which everyone was extremely grateful.