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RIT hosts out-of-this-world solar cars Campus life, Events

They looked like landspeeders from the Star Wars movies.

When RIT played host to the 2012 Solar Car Challenge this past weekend, people from campus and the community stopped by to see the out-of-this-world solar cars during the two days they were in town. Twenty cars from U.S. and Canadian colleges entered the competition, but only 12 qualified for the “Eight States in Eight Days” road race that began at RIT and would take teams 1,600 miles around the Great Lakes to the checkered flag in St. Paul, Minn.

Everyday Engineering campers talked to members of the University of Kentucky solar car team.

What must people have thought when they saw the space-age vehicles driving down the roads through their neighborhoods on Saturday morning? Before this, I had only seen pictures of the vehicles, so having the chance to see them up close was amazing. And even though RIT didn’t have a team, we still made an impression.

Friday was perfectly sun-splashed for the solar arrays to work their magic. While the cars ‘sunned’ themselves, the middle school girls in the Everyday Engineering camp asked the students about how long it took to build the cars (about a year and a half), are they easy to drive (with a little training), and how fast do they go (anywhere between 30 and 50 miles per hour on roads and highways with cars, trucks and semi’s zooming along beside them).

The 12 solar car teams were from U.S. and Canadian universities including MIT, SUNY New Paltz and the Universities of Michigan, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky and Oregon as well as Georgia Institute of Technology, Polytechnique Montreal and the University of California Berkeley.

RIT Student Government’s Anthony Hennig joined the meet ’n’ greet, as did Jim Myers, associate provost for international studies (and proud alumnus of Michigan State).

President Destler welcomed the teams on Saturday morning and dropped the green flag to send the teams on their way. He was joined by Scott Grasman department head of industrial and systems engineering.

As a University of Michigan graduate, Grasman launched the Michigan juggernaut from the pole position at the start of the race.

All the cars were impressive—so sleek and distinctive. They were designed and built by the engineering students, similar to those built by our Formula and Baja racing teams. Who knows, maybe in the next few years an RIT team will hit the road?

We had visitors who were not only curious about the cars but came to the event as a way to continue to shed light on the value of solar energy.

Susan Sun Nunamaker, math professor who has taught at universities in Illinois and Florida, traveled from Florida to attend the event. She’s a long-time advocate for renewable energy and the advantages of solar energy resources. She met with all the teams, taking photos and interviewing the students about their cars and the solar energy used to ‘fuel’ the vehicles. Her website and blog include numerous photos and stories from the challenge, including some call outs to RIT for its hospitality.

The only one missing that day was Ritchie—we had planned to have our favorite Tiger there to shake a few paws, to take a few photos, but he had a previous engagement. I was prepared and had his ‘dress’ suit in the back of my car for the last few days. (At one point I was thinking, ‘If only I were taller, I could fit into his suit!’) But, if I couldn’t replace Ritchie, maybe I could have a solar car of my very own?


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