SPRING HILL — A solar-powered hovercraft created by six Gulf Coast Academy of Science and Mathematics eighth-graders took home the top honors — the Wow! Award — at a recent science competition.
The invention was the star of the Florida Solar Energy Center's 2011 Energy Innovations Energy Whiz Olympics event held May 7 in Cocoa Beach.
Dakota Halley, 14, Elijah Medina, 14, Ankit Kumar, 13, Arjun and Bharat Malhotra, both 14, and Jonathan DeBellow, 14, took plywood, heavy duty vinyl, two cordless leaf blowers, a solar panel and an inverter, to make the hovercraft.
It is strong enough to hold a man and can remain elevated as long as the leaf blowers retain their electric charges.
The panels were provided to the students. "Florida Solar Energy Center provides interested school with two 80-watt solar panels contingent upon continuing participation in energy projects," said Joseph Gatti, Gulf Coast's director of curriculum and instruction.
The plywood was cut into a 4-foot diameter circle and the vinyl was attached to the underside. The leaf blowers' batteries were attached to the panel with the inverter and the nozzles of the blowers pointed through holes in the wood that were then sealed around them.
When turned on, air filled the pocket between the wood and the vinyl. The vinyl was punctured with eight small holes through which the air escaped downward under pressure, elevating the hover craft.
To move around, the boys explained, the person riding it stepped down with one foot, like on a skateboard. "The main focus was to get it off the ground," Arjun said.
The Wow! Award was the overall award for best exhibit for middle and high schools, but, Arjun explained, there was more to it than just building the craft. They had to market it and sell the judges on it.
The boys made an infomercial that included a simulated tour of the construction of their project.
"Then we made a fully functional website," said Dakota. It could be entered through a school computer for the judges to see.
The team brought home two trophies, one for the overall Wow! Award and the other for first place at the middle school level. They got ribbons and certificates.
Another GCA team also traveled to the event. The students entered their solar-powered swamp cooler, a machine that cools with water mist. That team was Steven Ciaccio, Noah Pollock, Nikki Reed and Gordon Appleton.
At the sixth-grade level, Ryan Leach and Bradley Schultz entered a small solar-powered car in the 2011 Junior Solar Sprint. They placed second in sixth-grade race results.
The students were accompanied to the event by science teacher Shawn Walker and field activity program teacher Melissa Rawlerson.