Lochgelly takes the chequered flag

24th August 2007 at 01:00
It's va va voom as Scottish pupils lead the pack for designing an F1 car. Emma Seith reports

THE FORMULA One car hurtles down the track at around 300mph, wings helping it cut through the air. The designers, clad in white jumpsuits bearing the names of their sponsors, watch as it zips past. Aerodynamics are the key to success in Formula One. And they are the key to success in this venture, F1 in Schools.

At Lochgelly High in Fife they know how to produce winners. The car being raced has been lovingly designed and manufactured on site, tested in a wind tunnel to monitor the drag, and finally, has made it on to the track. Unfort unately, it is only a balsa wood model which is incredibly light and apparently edible powered by CO2. However, it is still an award-winning vehicle.

Earlier this year, it won the collaboration award at the F1 in Schools World Championship in Melbourne, where Team Hybrid, a group of pupils from Lochgelly and East Cobb Middle School in the United States, proved they were a force to be reckoned with even though they had met face-to-face for the first time in Australia and had to do all their planning via cyberspace. "We manufactured the car and they designed it," says Dylan Foley, 12, Team Hybrid member, and a pupil at Lochgelly and member of the school's Young Engineers Club.

This was not the first win for Lochgelly's Young Engineers Club. Last year, it was named the best club in Scotland and in November won nine of the 11 trophies up for grabs at the Scotland-wide F1 in Schools competition.

The club has a membership of more than 120 pupils, more than half of whom are girls. It has been on the go since Scott Hunter, the technology teacher, joined the school two years ago.

The club isn't just about designing Formula One cars. Matthew Grigg, 13, enjoys animation and is working on designs using Bryce 6.0, the programme used by the makers of Toy Story to design scenery and background.

Gemma Henderson, 15, and Stacey Haldane, 14, were members of a group that built a robot for the recent Rampaging Chariots competition; Johnathan Law, 14, is interested in ergonomics. He is creating a mouse for people who are left-handed.

Johnathan is also the club's media and communications director. In the past two years, the group has raised pound;70,000 in sponsorship, pound;25,000 of which was used to get the Scottish half of Team Hybrid to Melbourne in March.

Stagecoach and local firms like FiFab (Fife Fabrications Ltd) support the club. The relationships cultivated by the department with local businesses have even resulted in employment for some youngsters. "FiFab has taken on nine or ten apprentices from our school to work as sheet metal workers and precision engineers," says Brian Harris, the department head.

When Dylan went to Melbourne for the F1 in Schools World Championship, it was his first time abroad. If the club had not paid, he could not have gone. He says: "When I told my mum, she said: 'You're never going to Australia for free.' I said: 'Just ask Mr Hunter.' She couldn't speak."

In Melbourne, as well as competing in the schools competition, Dylan and fellow Team Hybrid members Philip Reed and Brydon Smith, both 13, watched the Australian Grand Prix from an air conditioned corporate box and had time to see the city. "It wasn't a holiday though," points out Dylan. "It was more like a business trip."

According to depute head Mike Wood, the club has had a very positive effect on pupils. "In the case of four or five kids, if they didn't have this club to come to over the summer, blue lights would be flashing all over the place," he says. "This gives them an outlet for their creative, rather than their destructive, side."

Young Engineers Club might be popular and able to put engineering in context, but it is unlikely to help pupils when it comes to exams it is too cutting edge. Mr Hunter explains: "A lot of Scottish education is 10 or 15 years behind what's happening in the real world in computing, design and technology."

The next major competition for the Young Engineers is the F1 in Schools World Championship in Malaysia next year.

According to Mr Hunter, there are 15 million youngsters in 26 countries around the world trying to break the one second barrier, which means getting your model F1 car along 25m of track in under a second.

At Lochgelly High, the team of fifth years going to Malaysia XLR8 believes the answer lies in the wheels. And they are going through the laborious process of testing to see which materials work best. "If I told you any more than that, I'd have to kill you," says Mr Hunter laughing.

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