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WEST UNION | Plans for a technology center in the former Hawkeye Elementary building remain wishful thinking. Advocates this week, though, proved an important thesis: Iowa State University's solar cars can indeed inspire imagination and discussion.

"I was excited to see the interaction between high school and undergrad minds regarding science," said Megan Boyer, a science teacher at North Fayette Valley High School in West Union.

The concept proposes using Phoenix, one of the PrISUm team's solar vehicles, as a focal point for learning. Iowa State students delivered the vehicle Monday alongside last year's project, Hyperion, which is still operational.

North Fayette Valley science and I-Tech students got to interact with college engineering students while asking questions about the solar car program. They also watched as Hyperion cruised around the school parking lot.

The $250,000 experimental vehicle awed students with its aerodynamics, including a feature that pops fairings out and allows wheels to turn outside the car's housing.

To prevent drag, the design includes no rear-view mirrors. Drivers instead rely on a camera on the car's dash, according to Joe Ternus of Dysart, a junior studying electrical engineering.

Community leaders in Hawkeye hosted the Iowa State students after agreeing to take ownership of Phoenix, one of the PrISUm's 12 solar cars built since the program's inception. The team is able to house six vehicles, and the others, now retired, are in museums or other venues.

Phoenix arrived on a trailer and will stay in Hawkeye's municipal maintenance garage until the town's vacant elementary is ready.

When the North Fayette School District this year began whole-grade sharing with Valley Schools, officials shuttered Hawkeye Elementary. Hawkeye Economic Development, business leaders and community members met Monday to brainstorm ideas on how the one-story building might find new purpose.

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Jeff Rhode, general manager of Hawkeye Telephone, said officials from Northeast Iowa Community College seemed enthusiastic about how the former school might provide classroom space.

In the meantime, North Fayette Valley students will likely begin exploring the technology behind Iowa State's solar cars.

The fiberglass shell of the 460-pound Hyperion, which is street legal, was baked at a Delta Airlines facility in Minneapolis. Engineering students designed the suspension, braking and steering systems as well as its frame.

The solar panels convert sunlight into 12-volt electricity that powers the vehicle. The car's range is unlimited on a sunny day, and Hyperion can travel about 120 miles on battery reserves.

Boyer hopes to use Monday's demonstration as a focal point for discussion in her classroom later this week.

"The presentation was important for several reasons including practical application, real world application and inspiration," she said. "The use of lithium ion batteries relates to our current discussion on the difference between atoms and ions."

Other lessons may follow.

"Students also discovered the possibilities of solar technology and could apply that to driving a car," Boyer added.

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