This time, faced with one overcast morning after another, Zaremba
kept her students indoors and charged the cars with batteries.
"We've only done it outside before," she said Tuesday as her
students set up cars on cardboard sheets around the room. "If
rainwater gets in these cells, it'll damage the membrane, and we
won't have years of use out of these expensive fuel cells."
So her students may not have witnessed the power of the sun, but
they still learned a novel way to operate a vehicle.
A fuel-cell car works by separating distilled water into hydrogen
and oxygen -- a reaction instigated by an electrical current. The
hydrogen and oxygen are then used to provide energy for the motor.
Middle College High, located on the Orange Coast College campus,
serves students who want to do college-level work away from a
traditional high school setting. Zaremba is the only science teacher
at the school, which employs just four teachers.
Last year, she successfully applied for a $5,000 grant from a
program called A+ for Energy, sponsored by BP America. The grant
netted supplies for the fuel-cell car projects, the first major class
project of the year.
As students ran the cars in circles on the cardboard Tuesday, they
tied markers to the rear bumpers to count the number of laps. Rosalba
Mathus, 17, got 20 laps out of hers before it petered out, although
she ran into difficulty when she tried running it alongside other
"We had a few crashes," she said. "It's like the 405 Freeway."
Some students who were in the class last year said the solar
panels worked more efficiently than the batteries. However, the
experiment still held their interest.
"It's fun just to see it go -- just to see the hydrogen separate,"
said Stephen Lovett, 17.
Throughout the year, Zaremba plans other hands-on experiments for
her students -- and hopes for more agreeable conditions. One upcoming
project will involve building wind turbines to power the model cars.
"Hopefully, we'll have wind for that and we won't have to bring in
blow dryers," Zaremba said.
* IN THE CLASSROOM is a weekly feature in which Daily Pilot
education writer Michael Miller visits a campus in the Newport-Mesa
area and writes about his experience.