Middle School Students Learn Basic Solar Car Engineering Through UC Merced’s Solar Car Challenge

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Educators with the Quantum Energy and Sustainable Solar Technologies (QESST) Engineering Research Center (ERC) partnered with the University of California (UC) at Merced (UC-Merced) to host the Solar Car Challenge for middle school students. The solar car race event introduces solar energy and engineering design applications to participating students.


In 2019, roughly 40 teams participated in the hands-on solar engineering event supported by QESST. Hundreds attended the live event to watch the solar cars race and to better understand solar energy and its possibilities for creating greater efficiency and sustainability in transportation. With student teams plus their families in attendance, the event assembles a diverse gathering focused on solar energy in the California Central Valley.


QESST partnered with UC Merced’s CalTeach Learning Lab and the student chapter of Solar Energy Association to host the Solar Car Challenge. Teachers who attend Solar Car Trainings through the CalTeach Learning Lab are eligible to sign up student teams for the competition. Participating students then engage creatively to design and build a functioning solar car. Learning materials focused on solar energy and solar car basics are available to students, teachers and parents through the CalTeach Learning Lab website.

Registered teams then compete in a live car race at UC Merced. The solar cars must meet the competition specifications in order to race and regulations further define rules of race conduct. Awards are given in three categories to recognize achievements in speed, sustainability, and artistry. Although the COVID-19 outbreak postponed the Solar Car Challenge in 2020, roughly 40 teams of middle school students designed and constructed solar cars for the race competition in 2019.

The Solar Car Challenge partnership supports QESST’s strategy of establishing networks with partner universities for K-12 dissemination of QESST innovations. QESST is funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).