North Catholic student-built racers get a chance on the track

December 3, 2018 Cranberry Local News


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After months of study and hard work, students at North Catholic High School finally had a chance to put their creations head to head in the engineering class' annual gravity race.

CRANBERRY TWP — After months of studying and hard work, students at North Catholic High School finally had a chance to put their creations to the test in the annual gravity race.

Students in Dean Petrella's engineering class spent the last three months designing and building wooden “gravity racer” cars built to carry a driver down a sloped track.

On Friday, they got the chance to see if all their hard work paid off.

“Today was the big race day,” Petrella said. “So, today's like a competition where you actually get to see if you've actually designed and built your car to the principles you were trying to adhere to.”

Lining up in a section of parking lot typically reserved for buses, drivers strapped on their helmets as teammates talked strategy and made last minute modifications to cars.

The first heat was gravity-only — no pushing allowed. Petrella counted them down and they were off.

Racers began to creep forward, with one ultimately stopping despite its driver's best efforts to move it along.

Following heats allowed team members to push the cars down the track, sometimes with a little too much force, as students worked to figure out the best way to propel their wooden racers.

While some students expressed a hope for more, Petrella said this class did well.

“I think it went extremely well. I think the students had a good time,” Petrella said. “It's always a plus when they're having fun, and at the same time they're learning. Although, sometimes I don't think they realize they're learning as much as they're learning, but they really are.”

While the class incorporates hands-on elements, Petrella said the emphasis is on teaching students the physics and engineering behind what they ultimately build.

“There's lots of principles and fundamentals of physics that they're actually reinforcing when they build the cars,” he said.

With the race over, students still have more work to do, upgrading their racers to run on more than just gravity.

“They're actually going to electrify their gravity racers next week.” Petrella said. “So, we have some electric motors that they'll attach to their gravity racers and they'll work on actually getting some power (and) some motion into them other than using gravity.”

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Caleb Harshberger

Caleb Harshberger

Caleb Harshberger is a reporter covering Adams, Forward and Middlesex Townships and Evans City, Callery and Valencia Boroughs. He started as an intern with the Butler Eagle in Jan. 2017 and was hired as a staff writer in June of that year. Harshberger earned a degree in philosophy at Grove City College in 2017 and is originally from Syracuse, N.Y.