A great race at All Saints


By Anne Marie Amacher
The Catholic Messenger

DAVENPORT — Seventh-graders gasped and cheered as their homemade race cars were put to the test during a race May 4. The cars, made of wood, were propelled with compressed carbon dioxide (CO2).

Anne Marie Amacher
From left, Tom Yang and Michael Opar from St. Ambrose University, and Adam Tucker of All Saints Catholic School in Davenport, prepare cars for a CO2 race on May 4.

For several weeks before the event, All Saints Catholic School students explored the laws of motion, aerodynamics and engineering practices to design and build CO2-powered dragster cars. This project was designed specifically for seventh-graders, said their middle school science teacher, Adam Tucker.

Students received a triangle-shaped piece of wood and paper on which to draw the shape of their car. St. Ambrose University professor Michael Opar cut the cars. Students sanded and tested their cars in a wind tunnel and made adjustments. Painting the vehicles was one of the final steps.


Tucker has assisted with the summer engineering program at St. Ambrose for several summers, which is how he learned about the race car project. With the help of the university’s teaching and engineering departments, students put their cars to the test. Opar placed the cars on a guide wire, loaded each one with a 4-milligram CO2 canister and set the computer. The cars shot down a 66-foot-long track, powered by compressed carbon dioxide.

Tom Yang collected the cars at the end of the track. He is retired and taught physics and engineering courses at St. Ambrose for 35 years. He also helped Opar string up cars between sessions.

As each race finished, Tucker read off the times for each student. They recorded the time of each car as part of a five-member team. Students calculated the average speed of their group as part of their homework.

Serena Pham said the project was very creative and it was “cool to see St. Ambrose come and help us.” Designing the car was fun. Watching the race filled her and classmates with anticipation. Joshua Marsengill said his favorite activity was learning to build an aerodynamic car.
The students’ objectives were to reduce mass, increase aerodynamics and achieve maximum speed for their dragsters, Tucker said. “This is a great partnership with St. Ambrose and a wonderful addition in our Catholic school science curriculum.”

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