8th Graders Engineer CO2 Dragsters

In 8th grade science, students combined NASA’s Engineering-Thought Model and their knowledge of physics to create CO2 dragsters, miniature race cars, which are propelled by a carbon dioxide cartridge. Not unlike a rocket on wheels, CO2 dragsters can travel along a 20-meter track in less than one second, roughly 110 kilometers per hour!

Building and testing the dragsters gave students the opportunity to explore the scientific concepts of mass, acceleration, friction, and Newton’s Laws of Motion. Most CO2 cars are built from balsa wood and use standard wheels included with the dragster kit. For this project, students focused on the wheels instead of the body, since that is one variable that can easily be changed. Working in small groups, they designed custom wheels using SketchUp, printed them on the Makerbot Replicator2 3-D printer, and then raced their car to see its final velocity. In addition to the technology component, students completed an extensive application of physics vocabulary and data collection.

Students found the assignment to create aerodynamic wheels that still had enough mass to travel challenging. “It was interesting to calculate how the force of the carbon dioxide cartridges affected the wheels of our car,” said Elsa Sjogren ’19. “A key thing I learned from this project is that you have to have more mass in order to have a faster acceleration while using a specific amount of force.”