|ISU solar car, students soak up the sun|
|Written by Elizabeth Brei, Daily Vidette Senior Staff|
|Monday, 02 July 2012 17:41|
This summer, ISU will participate in a road race amongst cars that run on solar energy.
The race begins on July 4 and will last several weeks. It will begin in New York and finish in Minnesota. On July 18, the race will make a stop in Normal, where they will spend two days, and spectators will be able to see the cars and ask questions about them.
ISU has participated in the races since 2005 when they first bought and refurbished a used solar car.
George Rutherford, professor of physics and faculty adviser for the project, said that ISU usually does not place in the top finishers of the race, but the fact that they finish at all means that they have some of the best cars.
This year, the race will be more challenging, according to Rutherford. A change in the rules means that the cars must be lighter with smaller solar panels and smaller batteries.
“[The rule change] meant everyone’s cars were obsolete,” he said. “So the Mercury-4 [the car being raced this year] is our response to the new rules.”
ISU has the smallest budget of any of the teams racing cars this year, which means they are at a disadvantage when it comes to supplies and materials. The team usually spends up to $45,000, while some of the other teams spend over $100,000 or close to a million.
Much of their funds come from donations made by businesses in the area, as well as by the ISU President’s Office and the Deans of the College of Arts and Sciences and Applied Sciences and Technologies. Many donations come in the form of supplies that are needed to complete the car.
Rutherford explained that while ISU has a slower car, it is also built safer and more reliable than many others. While some cars are unable to finish the race due to engine failure or other problems, ISU’s cars almost always finish.
The car is built and raced almost completely by the students who make up the team. Rutherford said that they come from all different majors, including business to environmental science to physics.
“Anyone can join if they have a skill that we can use,” he explained. “Or if they are willing to work hard to learn one.”
The team will go together to the site where the race will begin. There will be four drivers that will rotate every six hours, plus separate vehicles full of team members who will precede and follow the car in case of engine failures and emergencies.
Rutherford said that the solar race is inspired by the fact that people are more aware of the need to be environmentally friendly and to lead “green” lifestyles. However, solar power is not a practical option for cars.
“This isn’t your average family sedan. This is a race car, with the barest essentials and no amenities,” he explained. “Solar power is not practical for a car, and I doubt it ever will be.”
The participants of the race are almost entirely teams from other universities, including one team from the University of Illinois Urbana–Champaign.
Rutherford explained that working on this car and being a part of the racing team creates opportunities to learn skills students will use for the rest of their lives.
“They learn how to be resourceful and how to problem-solve,” he said. “They are skills they will use beyond this in their professional lives.”