First BioMoto STEM Challenge A Winner

By Jennifer Woodford, Special to NCBiotech


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When the parking lot of Rockingham Dragway filled with buses, cars, trucks and trailers Saturday morning, March 10, it became obvious this wasn’t an ordinary day at the races.

More than 250 eighth graders representing Cabarrus, Kannapolis City, Richmond County and Rowan-Salisbury school systems were converging on the popular dragway with parents and teacher “coaches” to compete in the first BioMoto STEM Challenge.

BioMoto is a unique science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) educational program that combines biotechnology and motorsports to inspire students to explore STEM subjects and careers. The program is coordinated by the North Carolina Biotechnology Center in partnership with the North Carolina Motorsports Association, funded by a grant from the Golden LEAF Foundation and supported by donations from 30 companies.

“The Biotech Center and the Motorsports Association have worked together for four years, and we recognize that biotechnology and motorsports overlap,” said Marjorie Benbow, director of the Center’s Greater Charlotte Office and the creator and coordinator of BioMoto.

“One area of overlap is human performance,” she said. “With the investment in human performance at the North Carolina Research Campus in Kannapolis, it made sense to pull all of our resources together to make BioMoto about STEM education and human performance.”  

The Invention Showdown


The students had been preparing both mentally and physically since September 2011.  By the time they got to Rockingham, they were ready to compete in the Invention Showdown and the Pit Crew Challenge, the first two tests of the four-part BioMoto STEM Challenge.

The Invention Showdown that kicked off the competition compared each team’s design of an apparatus that mimics the actions of motorsports pit crew: jacking a car up; replacing wheels; and transporting fuel. The fuel was represented by a five-gallon container of water that weighed approximately 45 pounds. Each apparatus also had to roll at least three meters. The entries were judged on innovation and functionality.

Team Eagles Gone Wild from Kannapolis Middle School was the only team to use a trashcan for the body of an apparatus. Painted with silver flames and positioned horizontally with small wheels on the front and larger wheels at the back, the device used three pieces of plywood to create a cradle inside the can for the water bottle. The designers also attached handles to the unit, to push it the required distance.

A wooden lever balanced on a cinderblock fulcrum extended just under the front of the apparatus, easily lifting it higher than the required twelve inches. The apparatus cost just $27 to build. At the end of the day, Team Eagles Gone Wild won the Invention Showdown trophy.

“It was hard and took a lot of effort and teamwork,” said team member Dominik Delgado. “We had to start over and over until we got a great idea.” Jose Estela added. “It was rough, but the thought of the trophy and representing our school pushed us.”

They said the team struggled to find the best way to reinforce the trashcan, whether to add extra wheels and how to secure the handles and the water bottle. Teacher and BioMoto STEM Coach Tiffany Green estimated it took her students between 30 and 40 hours, working in school and after school, to build and test the apparatus. All of the STEM coaches guide their students through apparatus construction and also teach a specially developed BioMoto curriculum on human performance, physics, math, engineering and other sciences.

 “They did it all by themselves,” Green said. “It was a lot of trial and error, but they overcame. The process of the scientific method and the brainstorming, this experience was very valuable. The experience reinforced areas of science and math and helped build their confidence.”

Teams from Hamlet Middle School in Richmond County adapted a design similar to the framework of a car, square with four tires and a platform across the middle for carrying the water bottle. Each team had a different lever and fulcrum system to lift the apparatus. Hamlet’s Team Daytona won the Watson Vandegard Inventor Award, judged by patent attorneys at Hammer & Associates. STEM Coach Mark Aaron Burr said the design for the jack conceived by student Alden Morrison, which swings down and locks beneath the apparatus to hold it up, was the winning feature.  

Pit Crew Challenge

Bottom photo courtesy of Chad W. Mitchell

The next round of competition was a head-to-head Pit Crew Challenge using a stock car donated by UNC Charlotte’s Motorsports Engineering program. Teams donned knee pads, gloves and safety glasses as they prepared to jump the wall and change a stock car tire. In the first heat, Hamlet Middle School’s Team Talladega finished in 56 seconds, with no penalties, winning the Challenge trophy.

The Pit Crew Challenge reinforces the physical fitness component of BioMoto. In September 2011, each team visited the Research Campus in Kannapolis to undergo tests measuring strength and endurance at the Appalachian State University Human Performance Lab. The third part of the BioMoto STEM Challenge is a follow-up test to see if the students’ physical performance has improved. That will be followed by an academic test to see what they’ve learned. The team scoring highest in all four parts of the competition will be the official BioMoto STEM Challenge winner.

Michael Patrick, a law enforcement office and pastor from Hamlet, whose son Jaleel was a member of Hamlet Middle School’s Team Talladega, said BioMoto encouraged his son.  “He’s always been interested in both science and technology,” Patrick said. “BioMoto has given him new insights and new excitement.”

Grinning from ear to ear as he showed his father his medallion and his team’s trophy, Jaleel commented, “I love science and technology, and, my school, we totally dominated.”

Winners of the BioMoto STEM Challenge

  • Hamlet Middle School, Richmond County Schools, the Pit Crew Challenge Trophy
  • Hamlet Middle School, Richmond County Schools, the Watson Vandegarde Inventor Award
  • Kannapolis Middle School, Kannapolis City Schools, Invention Showdown
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