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Northwestern University's Solar Car Team Has Best Finish To Date

Northwestern's solar car placed 13th out of 25 teams in the North American Solar Challenge.

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August 1, 2008 | by Megan Fellman
EVANSTON, Ill. --- On a sunny day last week in Calgary, Northwestern University's solar car crossed the finish line in the North American Solar Challenge, placing 13th out of 25 teams registered for the race. This was the best finish for Northwestern's Solar Car Team in its 10-year history.

At the race's very end, team members clad in purple shirts ran along with the sleek car, driven by Patrick Markan, a senior in the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science and one of the team's co-managers. It had been a long and challenging journey: The 10-day race had begun July 13 in Plano, Texas, and the route to Calgary covered 2,400 miles.

Forty undergraduate students in the McCormick School, representing a range of disciplines, had designed and built the car, called NUsolar sc5, during the past two years. They created a lightweight car that, in addition to being powered by Sunpower A-300 solar cells, also harnesses the latest lithium-ion battery technology.

The race required four drivers from each team to take turns driving their cars hundreds of miles every day, and team members had to consider sunlight and battery power to determine how fast and long they could go each day.

The car is called NUsolar sc5 because it is the fifth created by the Northwestern University Solar Car Team. The team's second generation car, 'NErgy, is currently on display at the Adler Planetarium.

In the fall, the students plan to take NUsolar sc5 to several outreach events around Chicago to promote solar power and alternative energy. They also will be gathering a good deal of data on the vehicle.

"This will allow us to better evaluate the performance of the car so the next one, which the team will race in 2010 but start designing now, can be even more powerful and efficient," said Markan.

Vytas Bradunas is the other co-manager of Northwestern's solar car team project. Kornel Ehmann, James N. and Nancy J. Farley Professor in Manufacturing and Entrepreneurship; Walter Herbst, director of the Master of Product Development program at McCormick; and Chi-Haur Wu, associate professor of electrical engineering and computer science, are advisors to the team.
Topics: People