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Racing project schools students in principles of dynamics

Hundreds of second-year engineering students lined up in the Industrial Courtyard of the Centre for Engineering Innovation on Friday, November 20, waiting their turn to race uniquely-designed popsicle stick cars.

As part of a course requirement, teams of students from Bill Altenhof’s 92-210 Dynamics class were given two minutes per team to test their potential energy vehicles made out of popsicle sticks, common household string, carpenter’s glue, duct tape and standard sized CDs or DVDs.

“This exercise is an opportunity to expose students to practical applications of the principles of dynamics, and concept of mechanics,” says Dr. Altenhof, mechanical and materials engineering professor.

Using only the specified items, teams designed, analyzed and constructed vehicles no wider or taller than 50 centimetres, and no heavier than 2.8 kilograms. Each vehicle had to have a locking emergency brake and be capable of withstanding some abuse without damage.

As teams approached the starting line, a two-kilogram weight was attached to the vehicle, which acted as fuel to propel the car forward. The projects saw varying success, with some rolling at an angle, others staying stationary or toppling over.

Abigayle Diemer’s team, “Torquing Redefined,” saw their creation roll a short distance before toppling over. She says it was a challenging project and her team had known their vehicle was prone to falling over.

“We tried to fix that earlier on in the week but somehow it didn’t work out,” says Diemer. “We originally had it going 13 metres so it’s just kind of funny how things work out, you can test it 100 times, but when it counts, if it doesn’t work out it doesn’t work out—so that’s life.”

The teams will be graded on distance and mass, meaning the winning teams will have the lightest cars that went the farthest. This year, Altenhof says he added a bonus element. Students may boost their grade if they were able to accurately predict how far their vehicle actually travelled in competition.

View photos here