John Bluck

NASA Ames Research Center, Silicon Valley, CA

(Phone: 650/604-5026, 650/604-9000)

Vito Chiala

Foothill High School, San Jose, CA

(Phone: 408/-928-9114)


NOTE TO EDITORS AND NEWS DIRECTORS: You are invited to observe student wind
tunnel tests of a soap-box derby-like car Wed., Sept. 20 and Thursday,
Sept. 21, from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. PDT, both days, at NASA Ames Research
Center, Moffett Field, CA. To reach Ames, take the Moffett Field exit from
Highway 101, drive east to the main gate at Moffett Federal Airfield and
report to the visitor badging office for maps and directions to Bldg. N215.
U.S. media representatives must have valid picture ID in order to enter
Ames. Foreign media representatives must be escorted.

Alternative high school students from San Jose, CA, will test a modern soap
box derby racecar in a NASA wind tunnel on Sept. 20 and 21 to learn about

On Sunday, Sept. 24, the students, from Foothill High School, San Jose,
will race the car in the fourth annual Sand Hill Challenge in Menlo Park,
CA, which begins at 8:30 a.m. PDT.

“Because we are an alternative high school, our overall mission is to teach
science in alternative ways,” said Foothill teacher and robotics team
leader Vito Chiala. He and teacher Jeneva Westendorf instruct more than 80
sophomores, juniors and seniors about robots. “Students in our school have
traditionally not learned well from books, so what we do is a lot of
hands-on science and a lot of mentoring with professional engineers and
workers. This method really piques student interest,” Chiala said.

“NASA’s role in this project will be to assess the aerodynamics (drag and
flow characteristics) of the car and offer simple solutions on possible
changes to the vehicle’s shape,” said engineer Dale Satran of NASA Ames
Research Center, which is located in the heart of California’s Silicon
Valley. Satran is advising students about the wind tunnel tests that will
be in the Ames 7-ft. by 10-ft. wind tunnel in Bldg. N215. The racer is
about 2 ft. by 2 ft. and 13 feet long.

“We want to introduce this year’s class to scientific methods early on in
the school year. We decided to participate in the Sand Hill Challenge as a
way to begin the process,” Chiala said. Although 80 students are involved
in the project, only 20 will go to the wind tunnel tests. “We are planning
to videotape the tests, and a NASA engineer will come to our school to help
teach the other students about aerodynamics,” Chiala added.

“During the wind tunnel tests, a belly pan will be evaluated along with
other options of sealing the interior of the vehicle from the outside
airflow,” said Kevin James, NASA engineer in charge of the tests. “The lift
and drag of the vehicle will be measured by the tunnel scale system.” The
tunnel scale is an external balance that uses weight scales to measure
forces and torque.

“Flow visualization using tufts (small strings taped to the car) and
smoke will be used to identify areas where the airflow separates from the
vehicle. Presentations will be given to make the students aware of the
basic physics involved in the aerodynamics of the race car,” Satran added.

“We won’t have time to make alterations to the car for this year’s race,
but this is a tremendous learning experience for the students, and it is
possible that we could make changes to the vehicle for next year’s race,”
Chiala said. “Our real hope overall is that these wind tunnel tests will
also help the students learn about aerodynamics for their other robotics
projects. Our students have been successful in learning from these methods.
We won first place in the U.S. First Robotics national contest in April,”
Chiala explained.

Peter Johnson, a model maker, a designer and a machinist from Redwood City,
CA, built the car. “The car ran in the first two Sand Hill Challenges,”
said Johnson. “I retired, and I built a new car for another outfit. The
car the students are now using had been semi-retired, even though it is
still a competitive car.”

The competition is a modern soap box derby race open to all high schools,
national and international firms involved in entrepreneurial business,
including venture capitalists, law firms and startup companies, according
to the event’s official web site,