Inspiring the next generation of engineers

  • 28-Oct-2008 02:07 EDT
Castillo and Ryan Pace with spring scale.JPG
At Emerson Middle School in Livonia, MI, seventh-graders Alejandro Castillo and Ryan Pace use a spring scale to test the wheel-rim force on the team's toy car.
The electric gear-driven toy vehicles emblazoned with SAE International in bold blue lettering convey a hands-on message to students that math and science equals creative fun.

Middle school student teams from the Czech Republic, France, India, Mexico, Switzerland, and the U.S. have eight weeks to design, test, and build an electric gear-driven toy car. The Student Automotive Design Challenge (SADC), sponsored by Honeywell Transportation Systems and SAE International, is a first-year program for ages 11 to 14. SAE International's A World in Motion program (which earned a 2008 National Science Foundation Public Service Award) integrates math, science, technology, social studies, and language arts and is the basis for the SADC.

"The students will remember this project a lot longer than if they'd only read from a textbook about gears and forces and power. This program is a valuable asset to the classroom because it brings in real-world problem solving skills, and it allows the students to meet with industry experts," said Kim DuSablon, a teacher at Emerson Middle School in Livonia, MI.

Each team assembles a car from a Honeywell- and SAE-supplied kit of wing nuts, rubber collars, drive collars, rubber wheels, gears, gear axles, wheel axles, axle bushings, and other components as well as a three-volt motor. The cars must be capable of doing one of the following maneuvers: trek three meters in three seconds; climb a one-meter, 15-degree ramp in two seconds; or ascend a 30-degree slope without a time restraint.

The vehicle needs a compound gear set in order to climb the 30-degree incline, and designing such a gear-set is among the future lessons for DuSablon's class. "We'll have to find the perfect spot for all the gears, but it's our goal to get up that [30-degree] ramp," Ryan Pace said as his teammates Alejandro Castillo and Logan Wilamowski nodded in agreement.

After spending about 50 minutes in the science classroom, DuSablon's students walk to the middle school's library. From several desktop computers, the students compose online messages to students at Fostoria Middle School in Ohio, and they read comments posted from their peers in Switzerland. In addition to the online forum used by all student teams, a public website ( provides family and friends a venue for monitoring program happenings, including the announcement of the finalists in late November.

When possible, Honeywell engineers and marketing representatives talk with students in the classroom. "Honeywell recognizes the need to have innovative thinkers come into the workplace to help sustain the drive toward more fuel-efficient vehicles, and this program helps students get excited about pursuing a technical career path," said Steve McKinley, Director of Engineering and Product Assurance for Commercial Vehicles at Honeywell Turbo Technologies in Plymouth, MI.

"SAE International and Honeywell plan to continue the SADC for students beyond 2008-2009," said Matt Miller, SAE International's K-12 Education Programs Manager. "Our goal is to sustain participation from existing schools, expand the participation within those schools by including more classrooms, and look for opportunities to include new schools and Honeywell sites across the world." 
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