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The Home Stretch

June 25, 2010 | by Megan Fellman
Jessica Sudo, a mechanical engineering major who just finished her freshman year, is one of four drivers of the NUsolar car in the American Solar Challenge.

EVANSTON, Ill. --- On what likely will be a hot -- and hopefully sunny -- day in the Chicago area, Northwestern University's solar car and its team expect to cross the finish line in Naperville, Ill., Saturday, June 26, to conclude the 1,200-mile American Solar Challenge.

The vehicle, designed and built by a team of 30 students and fueled by the sun alone, grabs your attention: it is low and streamlined and has a body covered with 468 solar panels. It is racing 16 other cars that look much like it.

Naperville North High School, 899 Mill St. in Naperville, will host the finish line. Depending on weather conditions, the first teams should begin arriving around noon with others following through early afternoon. (The cars start their last race day in Normal, Ill.) The solar cars will remain on display at the high school Saturday, and the public can meet the teams.

The next day (June 27), Northwestern's car and some of its competitors will be on public display at the Museum of Science and Industry from 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. (in the museum's circle drive outside the main entrances, weather permitting). Members of the Northwestern Solar Car Team (NUsolar) -- many who have worked on the car for years -- again will be on hand to answer questions.

The demanding race began June 20 in Tulsa, Okla. -- seven full days of pressure, teamwork and quick thinking. Sixteen Northwestern students, one faculty advisor, two support vehicles and one solar car are racing against teams from universities around the world.

The American Solar Challenge is run much like the Tour de France with the cars traveling a set distance each day. Individual times are recorded and added up throughout the seven days of racing. The best total time wins.

Northwestern's vehicle, called sc5, has a lightweight body constructed from Boeing carbon fiber and is powered by SunPower solar cells. It also harnesses the latest lithium-ion battery technology. (The car is called sc5 because it is the fifth solar car built by NUsolar in the past 12 years.)

Along the race route team members have worked in a variety of areas, including analyzing the stream of data received from the car, strategizing and determining the optimal speed, troubleshooting mechanical and electrical problems and keeping an eye on the weather. The team also has reported its daily progress using Facebook, Twitter and a blog (http://nusolar.org/newblog/).

For more information on Northwestern's solar car and the team, go to www.nusolar.org. For more information on the American Solar Challenge, go to www.americansolarchallenge.org.

Topics: Campus Life