● Study how engineers incorporate aerodynamics into their work
- Tunnel Testing Activity Sheet
- Wind Tunnel Video
- Race Car Airflow Resource Sheet
- Assembled race cars from Lesson 1
- Small fan
- Masking tape
Make copies of each activity and resource sheet for each student in your class.
Think: How do engineers test the aerodynamics of race cars?
- Ask students how they think NASCAR engineers test race car performance considering that race cars travel around racetracks at high speeds. After students volunteer guesses, explain that engineers build special testing environments to simulate racetrack conditions.
- Hand out the Tunnel Testing Activity Sheet, which contains a reading passage about the use of wind tunnels to test drag and downforce. Read the introduction together as a class. Before students read the passage, challenge them to think about what they’ve already learned about aerodynamics and make connections with their own drag and downforce experiments as they gather information from and form opinions about the text.
Read: What does wind tunnel testing tell engineers about aerodynamics?
Step 1: On your whiteboard or chalkboard write the following questions. Tell students to record their answers to these questions on a separate sheet of paper as they read the passage.
- What predictions can you make about the passage based on the title?
- What questions come to mind as you read?
- What do you picture in your mind as you read?
- Does the text make you think about anything you’ve already learned
- Are there any words in the text that you don’t know?
Step 2: Instruct students to answer the questions on the sheet to assess their reading comprehension. (Answers: 1. Something that is not moving. 2. A wind tunnel is a large, narrow room with powerful fans at one end. They blow air over an object, such as a race car, placed inside the tunnel. 3. Engineers use wind tunnels to study race cars; aerodynamics and improve their performance. 4. NASCAR designers use wind tunnels to learn about different forces and pressures on a car. 5. They might alter the car’s shape to give it a more aerodynamic shape. Or engineers might change the angle of a car’s spoiler to increase downforce.)
Step 3: After completing the activity sheet, show students a video of a real wind tunnel used to test NASCAR race cars. Prompt students to compare how information is presented visually in the video versus the reading passage. Does the video help them better understand what they just read?
Build: How can engineers view airflow in a wind tunnel?
Step 1: Explain that streamers are another way engineers determine how air flows around objects in a wind tunnel. Separate students into groups and provide students with a straw and a four-inch piece of string. Have groups tape one end of the string to one end of the straw to create their own streamers.
Step 2: Set up a fan on a table and mark a distance two feet away with a piece of masking tape. Have students place the car the team built in Lesson 1 on the piece of tape facing the fan. Turn the fan to a medium setting and make sure it is positioned so air is blowing at the car. Tell one group member to hold the straw and place the end of the streamer on different points of the car, such as the front, sides, back, and top. The direction in which the string moves shows the direction that air is moving over the car’s surface. If the string is straight, the airflow is steady – a sign of an aerodynamic design. The opposite is true if the string whips around wildly.
Step 3: Instruct students to draw a simple sketch of their car and label it with arrows to shows which way air is flowing in different spots. Also have them label where the airflow is smooth and where it is turbulent.
Team Up: What other testing facilities and mechanisms do engineers use to test car performance?
Explain that wind tunnels are just one type of testing that race cars undergo. Have students team up to research race car testing facilities. Instruct students to compile lists of the types of testing race cars undergo at specific testing facilities and/or test tracks. Have the groups use their lists to build their dream testing facilities. Groups should prepare profiles of their facilities. Their profiles should include the name and location of their facility; descriptions of all the testing mechanisms at the facility; a description of the test track, including its length, the number of curves, elevation of banking, etc.; and an illustration of what the facility looks like.
AFTER THE UNIT Once you have finished all four lessons in the Unit 1, have students complete the Post-Assessment: What Did You Learn About the Science of Speed? and compare their responses to the pre-assessment.
POST-ASSESSMENT ANSWER KEY
1. B; 2. D; 3. A; 4. B; 5. B; 6. A; 7. D; 8. B; 9. D; 10. A