Physics & Physical Science Demos, Labs, & Projects for High School Teachers

Posts Tagged ‘Electric Car

There seems to be a pent up demand for my unqualified opinion on this matter, so I guess I’ll speak up.  There are certainly teaching opportunities here.  Students can learn about new developments in battery technology, how systems have changed from mechanical designs to drive by wire technology,  electric motors, torque, gasoline electric generators, the impact of electric cars on our environment, including how power is generated at power plants today.  Students can investigate how an electric car changes the cost of ownership over a period of years.  A car like the Volt opens up the science dialog, I like that.

I spent about 20 minutes talking to their engineer Mel.  Mel is not a 50 year-old guy with a beer belly, she is a very well informed and impressive engineer.  I love that GM puts female engineers in the limelight.  There is still a serious lack of role models for women in science.  I need to get her into my classroom to open some eyes.  Anyway, Mel and I had a great discussion, and in an effort not to put words into her mouth, all of the following statements here are mine.

The Chevy Volt is a great step forward.  Toyota beat GM to the punch with the Prius, but the Volt is not a hybrid; it’s an electric car with a motor that is used to provide electricity when the batteries run down.  The Lithium Ion technology is a big step forward.  Previous electric cars use banks of lead-acid storage cells that weighed more than your mother-in-law and took a long time to charge.  I know the power tool industry was a little reluctant to use Li-Ion cells a while ago, but they seemed to have tamed the beast.

The real problem is that the current Li-Ion batteries aren’t really the answer, they are just a stepping stone.  Somebody, in some university or company somewhere, is going to invent a better battery that can deliver the energy storage needed for an electric car.  When that happens, he or she will be an overnight billionaire.  Right now, the car can go up to 40 miles on a charge.  That would work for me, I commute 16 miles each way.  The cost to plug in is only pennies compared to a tank of gas.  Sure the energy is coming from somewhere, and the power station may be using fossil fuels, but I’d like to believe they operate much more efficiently than my current car.  The range of the car is comparable to any gasoline powered car.  You will still get 300+ miles to a tank of gas and full battery.  But imagine only needing to fill up once a month or three because you mostly power up off the grid.

The Volt isn’t really a new design from the bottom up.  Instead, it’s a quick fix to get GM into the market.  The car needs to lose weight.  I think the use of an axle could be replaced with independent motors for each wheel.  An axle seems inefficient to me, adding both friction and weight.  Maybe motor technology isn’t where it needs to be, but that will improve quickly also.  Electric motors provide lots of torque, the issue is going to be keeping the weight down and making reliable control software.

Will it succeed?  Our high school seniors are going to be buying a new car in a few years, I’d ask them if they would buy it.  Of course the price and early reliability are going to be critical.  I’m pretty sure most of the 12,000 attendees at the conference would seriously consider purchasing an electric car.  It’s not going to be profitable for a couple of years, but if GM plays its cards right and doesn’t do something stupid, they could own the market before the competition gets the Amp or Ohm on the show floor.


I got an email from Tarun just before NSTA, he works for a PR firm employed by GM.  He asked if I would link to their site, since it is set up as a place for educators.  Rather than just provide a link, I asked him to write up something and I would post it here.  Below is what he wrote, reformatted, and minus the teacher testimonials; they didn’t play well on a blog.

General Motors’ Education Website, contact: is an online resource housing K-12 educational materials aimed at educating youth on topics related to the environment, alternative energy and technology.  General Motors, along with educational experts such as Weekly Reader, created this site as a resource to encourage discussion and interaction amongst students, teachers and parents.

Their goal is to foster enthusiasm about math and science by following these core principles:

Enlightenment – Assist in developing a student’s awareness of science, math, and technology issues.

Knowledge – Reinforce these issues with solid concepts and real-world applications.

Attitudes – Help personalize the student’s relationship with the global environment.

Action – Encourage students to make a difference.

Today’s students are tomorrow’s engineers, scientists and problem-solvers.  They will work to develop solutions to build a more sustainable future.  GM’s purpose for this site is to provide additional tools and inspiration.

Visit for:

Free Lesson Plans: GM, Weekly Reader and other educational experts have teamed up to create free teacher lesson plans that explore real-world environmental and technological topics. Visit the site and browse the plans by grade level,  topic and national standard. Lesson plans are also available in Spanish.

Educational Games: These online games for students explore science and technological concepts in fun and interactive ways.  Suitable for all grade levels.

Interactive Graphics: These features demonstrate how technologies such as hydrogen fuel cells and internal combustion engines function.

Educational Articles: Students and teachers can find articles about a variety of current topics related to the environment, energy and technology.

Coloring Pages: These printable pages allow young students to color and decorate pictures of various GM vehicles like the Chevrolet Corvette.

“Teach Green” Blog for Teachers: This section of the website was created as a gateway for “green” educators to share their experiences and inspirations for teaching lessons about the environment, energy and technology. We’re also always looking for new blog writers so if you know teachers who are teaching “green” in fun and innovative ways and they want to share their classroom stories, e-mail us at

Educator Newsletter: This newsletter provides educators with the latest updates and news from the Web site.

What’s New in 2013/2014?

Every year brings a change, this one is no exception.

I will be picking up the sophomore honors Algebra II class to keep them separate from the juniors. This should help accelerate them and put them on a stronger track towards Calculus. Looks like there will be only one section each of Physics and Calculus, but still two of Robotics & Engineering.

Hot topics this year are going to be the Common-Core Standards, Standards-Based Grading (SBG), improving AP Calculus scores, and somehow adding Python, maybe as a club.

Polls in the sidebar

Just a quick poll to help me understand who is stopping by my blog.

Yeah sure, lots from America, but look who else is here…

If you are badly in need of more email or for some reason jonesing for a physics fix, enter your email address so I can bother you with my newest rant on science.

Join 314 other followers

Blog Stats

  • 1,299,568 hits by nerds like me since June 1, 2008
July 2018
« Jan