Northern Ireland

NI schools bring electric cars to Goodwood IET Formula 24 race

Car designed by Sacred Heart College in Omagh Image copyright Greenpower
Image caption Sacred Heart College in Omagh's car is called Vision

It's a long way from pram wheels and a rickety plank of wood for pupils from three schools in Northern Ireland, who have made it through to the final of an international electric car competition.

The secondary school pupils have spent months getting their electric single-seat racing cars ready for battle, fine-tuning their designs to gain a competitive edge.

Their efforts culminate at the Goodwood motor racing circuit in West Sussex at Sunday when they pit their creations against teams from around the world in the IET Formula 24 race.

It is a test of endurance rather than speed, according to Stuart Christy of Greenpower Education Trust, the charity behind the event.

"Just like any other Formula One constructor championship, their goal has been to take it to a regional event, qualify and then go to the international finals," he says.

Image copyright St Colm's High School
Image caption The car built by pupils at St Colm's High School in Draperstown

"The idea is they design a highly efficient electric vehicle, so the cars can do up to 30mph and they do that for up to four hours.

"It's not just about the race - it's also about the engineering behind it, so there are portfolio and design awards as well."

Each vehicle uses the same batteries and electric motors, and they were built using kits aimed at teaching the basics of automotive design.

Their goal was to design a car that travels the furthest distance in a set period of time using a set amount of energy.

Image copyright Greenpower
Image caption The cars qualified through heats held in May at Nutts Corner

The trip to the finals is being sponsored by the University of Ulster, as part of a funding programme to improve access to higher education among disadvantaged groups.

Dr Alan Brown of its School of Engineering said constructing the car helped to develop pupils' skills in science, technology, engineering and maths - the so-called STEM subjects that are so much in demand by many employers.

"It's a great project because it's not just a little science experiment you do in a lab - it's about building stuff, it's about problem-solving and it really inspires kids to think about engineering," he says.

"The idea is that the kids are in schools building these kit cars, which are essentially big Meccano sets, but then they get to the event and suddenly realise that this only gets them so far.

"If you want to compete and really do well, there's a huge amount of extra engineering that you have to put into it.

"The kids become really keen to find out how they can improve - they're asking questions like how can they improve the car and make it faster, trying to solve problems and improve things, and that's what engineering is all about."

Northern Ireland qualifying heats were held at Nutts Corner in May and four schools came through to reach the final - Sacred Heart College in Omagh, St Colm's High School in Draperstown, Newtownabbey Community High School and Maynooth Post Primary School in County Kildare.

Image caption Third year pupils at Newtownabbey Community High School put the finishing touches on their car

Newtownabbey Community High School design teacher Billy Armstrong says his third year pupils have already learned a lot from the experience.

"They've done a great job, from building the car to putting the graphics with the school colours on it," he says.

"They adapted the gears, the batteries and the frame, and with a battery-powered car, aerodynamics are the key so they've added a polystyrene nose and different profiling on the side to make it run faster."

Last year's winning car managed to travel for four hours at 30mph, with an energy cost measured in pence, so the schools have a lot to live up to.


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Media captionBBC Newsline's Catherine Morrison tried out one of the electric vehicles due to race

However, it is the taking part that matters, according to Stuart Christy who says the pupils also get accreditation worth the equivalent of up to four GCSEs in engineering-related subjects.

"It has a cross-community dimension as well, bringing children from lots of different parts of the country together," he says.

"As an after-schools club, they get the opportunity to put into practice things like gear ratios, software and will use industry-standard 3D computer-aided design software.

"They've got a little bit more of a foot in the door when it comes to getting employment later on, and it builds a sense of excitement in learning about the subject."

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