After she started volunteering at Suncoast Science Center’s Faulhaber Fab Lab, high school senior Natalie Carrión found the role wasn’t simply a one-way street.
“I think it really is a symbiotic relationship,” she said.
By creating the racetracks on which they race their own custom-designed remote-controlled cars, elementary and middle school students learn a lot about engineering, said Carrión. The volunteers learn a great deal about engineering as well.
On Sunday, the Suncoast Science Center/Faulhaber Fab Lab 8th Annual Remote Control (RC) Custom Car Open was held at the science center’s facilities, placing the kids' abilities on display through a series of visually striking cars.
The event included 160 students representing about 60 teams from over 21 area schools, and the competition spanned two “Under the Sea” themed tracks — a short challenge course, and a longer obstacle course.
13-year-old Darshan Kolesar, part of the team Concorde, said knowledge of electronics aided in the design of his team’s car, modeled after an airplane as well as a flying fish. This included when he placed two LED lights on the car’s two wingtips, mimicking airplane lights.
“If I was a newbie to electronics, I would have tried to connect the LEDs directly to the battery, which would have ended up ruining the LEDs,” he said. He said a resister must be connected so that the current does not run directly to the LEDs.
“I think it was pretty cool to use all the machines,” said 10-year-old Peyton Campbell of the team The FORCE is With Us.
The construction of the cars includes using a vacuum former to fit plastic onto a wooden mold, performing laser-cutting, and creating various 3-D printed objects.
Suncoast Science Center board member Asim Chauhan said the abilities of the students in the program, in creating visually appealing and highly functional cars, have improved over time.
“In a school environment, children are told what to do. In this environment, they are actually empowered to do what they would like to do."