Carcross has golden dreams for its hand built green machine

Students at Carcross Community School have combined the technology of the Terminator with the ethics of the Green Party, to create a formidable…

Students at Carcross Community School have combined the technology of the Terminator with the ethics of the Green Party, to create a formidable machine.

In an experiment of metal and rubber, they are building the ultimate solar car.

Meet the Aluminator.

Made almost exclusively of aluminum, the frame of the car is already constructed.

Team Carcross, comprised of six students,  Grades 7 to 9, and a handful of adult volunteers, have bolted the tires and connected the brakes.

“It’s about 60 per cent complete,” said school principal Brian Shanahan.

Like a silver skeleton, the Aluminator’s body has been pieced together from donations and materials purchased for the project.

“It’s sort of a mish-mash,” said Shanahan in a phone interview from the school.

“Some (sponsors) have given us materials; some have given us money.

“We’ve got some graphics stuff and some aluminum and some cash.”

While it takes imagination to envision the Aluminator in its road-ready state, it will be a fiery ride, according to Shanahan.

“When it gets all the sides on and the aluminum paneling, it’s going to be a pretty hot car,” he said.

The Aluminator is being built for the Skills Canada Solar Challenge, scheduled for the first week of May.

This is not the first car Carcross school has submitted to road tests, but they now have new approach.

“(Last year’s entry), one might call it a cute car,” said Shanahan.

“It was an interesting car and it worked just fine. But it’s nothing like the car that we’re putting in this year.”

With a year’s experience under its tool belt, team Carcross drafted the blueprints for a different breed of solar car.

“This year we’ve taken it quite seriously,” he added.

“We’ve really been able to put in an entry that actually stands a chance of winning.”

While the team won gold in the territory for their age category last year, they have dreams of capturing first prize in both the Yukon and across the country, said Shanahan.

On a roped-off section of road near FH Collins, vehicles will be graded on drag racing, an endurance test, and the process students went through to develop their cars.

Run by Skills Canada, a non-profit organization that promotes trades and technologies across the country, the competition was engineered by Skills Canada Yukon president Duncan Miller.

Earlier this year, the solar car competition was given the national seal of approval.

Finalists from the Yukon will compete in the nationals. This means that vehicles assembled in schools from the Yukon to Newfoundland will descend upon Halifax in late May to race for gold, silver and bronze.

“It’s a first for the Yukon and a first for all of Canada,” said Skills Canada Yukon executive director Dan Curtis.

But the road doesn’t dead-end in Halifax.

“There’s actually a world competition; it’s like the Olympics,” said Curtis in an interview this week.

“The Solar Challenge is being put on the world stage.”

Curtis hopes the Yukon will be driving its cars to the podium at the international competition planned for Calgary in 2009.

Meanwhile, the young Carcross engineers are honing valuable skills, while preparing for the future.  

As a junior team, all students are under 15 years of age, which restricts the kinds of tools they can use, said Curtis.

“They’re not welding because they’re too young to weld,” he said. “So they’re bolting it all together.

“But the amount of conviction coming out of Carcross is really unbelievable.”

Building the Aluminator is an extra-curricular activity, but students also gain practical knowledge, said Shanahan.

“The kids really learn a ton of stuff from fabricating to electrical to mechanics,” he said.

Experiential learning, doing an activity rather than reading about it in a book, helps students learn in a memorable way, said Shanahan.

“Hands-on is always the way to go.”

“If everything were hands-on, it would be ideal.”

The school’s bison hunt is a prime example of experiential learning.

“What a great way to do biology,” said Shanahan.

“Imagine sitting in a classroom learning about a bison, learning about the anatomy of a bison.

“Then, actually going out in the field with a bison — actually shooting it and then gutting it, looking at the calf and dissecting the animal.”

Students constructing the Aluminator are going through a similar experience, he said.

“Solar is non-polluting and it’s efficient,” said Shanahan.

“This project, even though it’s a solar-car project for racing and endurance, ties in with science and global warming and fossil fuels and how efficient a solar car can be.”

With only a few months left before rubber hits asphalt, the message coming out of the Carcross school is clear.

“Keep an eye out for the Aluminator in May,” said Shanahan.

“I think it’s gonna turn some heads.”