Students shine with solar-powered boats

Members of La Cañada High’s Engineering Club show off what they’ve learned during Solar Cup.

May 20, 2010|By Nicole Charky

Nothing makes La Cañada High School senior Hima Hassenruck-Gudipati quite as happy as a 120-pound robot or riding inside a 16-foot solar-powered boat.

Hassenruck-Gudipati is president of the La Cañada High School Engineering Club who used her skills and enthusiasm for engineering this past weekend at the Solar Cup, a seven-month engineering program for more than 800 high school students in Southern California.

La Cañada’s 23-member team designed, built and raced solar-powered boats while learning resource conservation on Lake Skinner in Temecula Valley.

The competition began in December. All the competing high schools built a wooden vault that resembles a canoe. From there, teams designed a motor, propeller, drive train and solar panels, which took about three months of construction. Teams were judged by how well their boat worked; the water conservation public service announcement that they created; and how well the boat performed in a 90-minute endurance race.


The Engineering Club is sponsored by the Foothill Municipal Water District and was recognized with the teamwork award for the four-day event, along with second place in technical report and third place for public service announcement.

The group has competed in other competitions, too, including FIRST Robotics competitions in spring and winter for which team members created giant robots that were often taller than the members who built them.

When they’re not competing, the club mentors La Cañada middle school students, teaching them engineering principles to prepare for MATE underwater robotic competitions, said Steve Zimmerman, who advises the club and teaches biology and chemistry at La Cañada High.

In addition, the team also works with the Lego League, four teams comprising elementary and middle school students who are coached by high school students to learn the basics of engineering.

The engineering experience is new to Hassenruck-Gudipati, who was one of the original members of the group three years ago and didn’t know the fundamentals of electric wiring or solar energy.

“I actually didn’t know a lot about engineering, but I heard an engineering club was starting so I joined, and now I want to major in engineering,” she said.

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