CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Hydrogen-powered racers are ready to go. The Kapiolani Community College STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) Summer Bridge Program featured cars designed and constructed by recent Hawaii high school graduates. CLICK FOR LARGE
Hydrogen high-tech toys lure students
At Summer Bridge, young learners gain skills in vital subjects
Despite a sluggish start, the Green Monster, a shoe box-size car running on hydrogen fuel, overtook four other emission-free vehicles built by high school graduates to win a race yesterday at Kapiolani Community College.
The competition -- a sort of demolition derby where cars spun out of the chalk-marked course and smashed into Styrofoam guardrails -- is one way educators are luring students into careers in science, technology, engineering and math to address Hawaii's labor shortage in those areas, also known as STEM subjects.
It worked for Matt Anguay, an 18-year-old Kaimuki High graduate who put his dreams of a basketball career on hold this summer to study the clean hydrogen fuel and build one of the remote-controlled cars.
"I wasn't interested in it until now. It opened up a window," Anguay said while holding the bright carcass of the Green Monster and discussing plans to take math and science courses at Kapiolani Community College this semester.
Anguay joined some 20 native Hawaiian graduates from 14 public and private schools who enrolled in the college's STEM Summer Bridge Program. The three-week venture, funded by a $1.25 million grant from the National Science Foundation, had students putting together a desktop computer from scratch, completing an online mathematics review course as well as designing and building the hydrogen cars.
Last summer, students built underwater robots.
"This is the hook," said John Rand, coordinator of Kapiolani's STEM program. "You've got to take physics, you've got to take engineering, you've got to take chemistry. But it's going to be fun."
Lt. Gov. James Aiona, who attended the event, said the state Department of Human Services recently received enough federal funding to expand similar hands-on STEM programs to 10 schools in poor neighborhoods.
"If you just give them a book and say turn to Page 21 and solve this problem, they are not going to be as excited," he said.
This week, Kapiolani received a separate National Science Foundation grant to broaden its program to feeder high schools next year, Rand said.
A hydrogen fuel cell, considered a promising clean replacement to oil, releases electricity when combined with oxygen and has water as its only waste product. A major obstacle for the technology has to do with increasing hydrogen's fuel output without building a tank too big or too compressed with the highly flammable gas, which would be dangerous, Rand said.
It's a problem Kailua High grad Duke Lenchanko, 19, can't wait to solve.
"With hydrogen being our new resource, it's more economically efficient and less pollutant," he said.