GREEN BROOK, NJ -- Fifty Green Brook seventh and eighth graders making up fifteen teams from Green Brook have spend the past two months building solar-powered cars. Today they brought their creations to the middle school gym for a competition to determine who moves on to the Inter-County Finals of the Junior Solar Sprints in May.
Mayor Pat Boccio, who is an electrical engineer, was among more than a dozen volunteers who judged the entries based on craftmanship, engineering, use of recycled materials and documentation. His son, who is now a junior in college, competed in the event more than a decade years ago.
"This is my third time judging this event, and they call me in because of my profession not because I'm mayor," said Boccio. "The kids put a lot of work into the solar cars, but the important thing is that they're learning that science and technology can be fun."
Each team presented their vehicle and documentation five times, once for the judges at tables for each of the four categories and a last time running down a sixty foot track. The judges, all volunteers from the community with the exception of a couple teachers and Superintendent Richard Labbe, got to hold the cars and question the students. They then rated each team and turned their scores in to organizers.
Four winning teams were selected after the race, one based on each criteria, that will go on to the Inter-County competition sponsored by TransOptions. The winners were: Green car for Documentation and Use of Recycled Materials; Child's Play car for Engineering; Night Mobile car for Craftsmanship; and the overall winner was the Space Shuttle car.
The competing students are all in the district's Gifted and Talented Education (GATE) science program. Maggie Silver, the GATE director, said the event is the highlight of the year because the winners get to move on to higher competition.
"Green Brook sent a team to the state Junior Solar Sprint finals last year," said Silver. "We didn't win, but it was a thrill for the kids to make it that far based on their own work."
Each team was given basic kits to build their car around, including a solar panel, battery pack and small motor. The cars were required to meet certain criteria, including that most materials should be recycled and the car had to be able to carry an empty aluminum can.
Walter and Robert Tunison, co-presidents of Tunison Home Improvement Contractors in Dunellen, were judges in the Craftmanship category. Walter was a judge in 2013 and recruited his brother to take part in 2014.
"This is nice in that it gets the kids using their hands and brains, thinking and building things instead of video games," said Walter.
"We're happy to give a few hours and be a part of that," said Robert.
Documentation& Recycled Materials Winners:
“Child’s Play” Car
“Night Mobile” Car
“Space Shuttle” Car