Hebron Academy students, from left, Mitchell Nazareth, Calvin Grover and Ky Barretta, show the first of two remote-controlled hydrogen cars they plan to race in an international grand prix series. Hydrogen fuel packs, remote control and 3D-printed chassis prototypes lie on the table. Nicole Carter/Advertiser Democrat

HEBRON — When Joshua Kangas decided to return to Oxford Hills and Hebron Academy last fall after working as a science, technology, engineering and math teacher in California for 11 years, he brought an academic movement of the sort Maine has never seen: a hydrogen car race that takes place on a global scale.

“Horizon Educational is a company that wants to educate around clean energy,” Kangas said recently from his academy classroom. “Their flagship program is called the Horizon Grand Prix. It’s a global club in over 20 countries. In the U.S., the only state that has ever participated is the state of California. They have about 120 schools that participate.”

Kangas became involved with the Horizon Grand Prix at the school where he began teaching in 2016. Students built their remote-controlled hydrogen cars from scratch with little instruction, and competed against other schools at regional, national and global levels. The races are four-hour endurance events and run entirely by pit crew teams of students.

Once reestablished at the academy, Kangas reached out to Horizon Educational to gauge their interest in setting up a Grand Prix program in Maine. Even though Hebron Academy would be the only site using one of their hydrogen cars outside of California, the company was all for it.

“They told us, worst-case scenario, we can have a car here and we could travel out to California to compete,” Kangas said.

Horizon shipped the components to Kangas and he invited students to participate in the program, which to start, was simply learning how to build the car. A group, led by “co-captains” junior Mitchell Nazareth of Boston and senior Calvin Grover of Norway was formed.

Other students joining the team from the start, or for iterations, were junior Ky Barretta, freshman Cassidy Russell and junior Aaron Han. Rising freshman Kate Dilworth and Forest Pelletier will become permanent team members next year.

It is up to the student teams to engineer the components of the car they build and use operating methods that work best for them. The students made some of the parts themselves using a 3D printer. They custom-designed their hydrogen packs to power it. It took between six and eight weeks to build.

The cosmetics of the hydrogen car are still in design mode but the team completed enough mechanically to make it go. Its first test drive ended quickly when it drove off a lab table and hit the floor. But operating the vehicle is part of the education.

A presentation before the student body in gym went much better, given the space available. While the flooring was not quite right for the car’s tires to grip effectively, the students continue learning about all the work they need to do to prepare for an eventual trip to California to participate in an endurance race.

Last month, Kangas and the team found out they will start racing the car much sooner than expected. Following the gymnasium test spin and a feature in Hebron Academy’s alumni newsletter, an anonymous donor has gifted the school $25,000, enough to buy another car to build for $5,000 and $20,000 for a race track so students can establish a Horizon Grand Prix East Coast racing hub and host future endurance races in Maine.

By the time the school year starts in September, the first car will be rolling around the new track and students will immediately start work on a new car to race against it. Kangas has already started reaching out to his science, technology, engineering and math educator counterparts at other schools in Maine, including Oxford Hills Technical School in Paris. He expects several more programs will be initiated in Maine as well as other New England states.

“I’d like to see five to 10 schools join us,” he said. “It would be great to have grade level teams compete. Horizon Educational’s mission is to build a foundation for clean energy through community engagement, and encourage students to learn clean technology.”

Source: By Nicole Carter| sunjournal.com