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La Trobe University’s PrintACar Challenge

Australia’s La Trobe University organises yet another exciting challenge for young minds – the Quantum Victoria PrintACar Challenge. In this challenge, Victorian students have the opportunity to design, 3D print and race a car. All parts of the car with the exception of the axles, are printed using the 3D printer. A small canister of carbon dioxide gas fuels the cars down the 20m race track.

A total of 141 students from 16 primary and secondary schools tried their hand at the challenge. A total of sixteen teams were formed. Each team brought their 3D printed creations to the La Trobe Engineering ICT Showcase on the final race day.

Lucky teams which revved up to the top spots each walked away with an UP2 Plus 3D Printer. The fancy prize is a first for the competition.

Winners of the competition were chosen based on an aggregate score. Teams are scored on the marks received on their portfolio, poster, creative design, print finish and of course, the speed of their car.

Kanvia College’s Mechanical Masters gleaned the top prize for the primary school category. While St Leonards College’s Falconeers was the overall secondary school winner.

Talent – A Need for Speed

La Trobe University Pro Vice-Chancellor (College of Science, Health and Engineering), Professor Rob Pike noted the Challenge’s importance.

“This is an innovative way for schools to explore and improve student participation in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) education.”

“The 3D designs were incredibly competitive this year and I hope they’ve inspired some of these young engineers to consider a future in an industry which is becoming increasingly important.”

Presently, engineers are in high demand Down Under. Yet, the talent pool has grown by a meagre average of 4.2% annually. Moreover, there is evidence of declining student participation in STEM subjects. What is especially appalling is the lower rate of participation in STEM by young women than young men.

In Australia, the number of year 12 students accepting places in engineering courses has fallen. In 2015, there were 11, 061 acceptances. This is a stark comparison to 2013 when there were 12, 225 acceptances. Of the acceptances in 2015, only 1845 were by women.

Hence, competitions like these are highly important to encourage an interest in engineering as well as to democratise the uptake of STEM related courses.

Quantum Victoria Director, Soula Bennett, said the PrintACar Challenge gives students a real-life display of STEM in action.

“The challenge allows students to draw on 21st century skills and knowledge as they design, test and create their 3D printed car,” Ms Bennett said.

“It’s also pleasing to see a shift towards a gender balance in this challenge, with the number of girls competing increasing every year.”

Future Race

Since everyone’s a winner, all participants from the primary level bagged a ‘Makey Makey’ kit, and their secondary school counterparts received an ‘Arduino’ kit. These will stoke their passion for engineering beyond the realms of the challenge.

Since the competition started in 2014, more than 580 primary and secondary students have participated in PrintACar. The challenge is the first initiative of its kind in Australia.

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