With high hopes, members of Team SIUE valiantly began the North American Solar Challenge (NASC) on July 17 against contenders from larger colleges and universities, but only made it about 125 miles under overcast Texas skies when the Cougar Cruiser dropped out of the race.
NASC is a competition to design, build, and race solar-powered cars in a cross-country event. Of 47 initial registrants for NASC 2005, only 20, including SIUE, were allowed to compete in the 2,500 mile race from Austin, Texas, to Calgary, Alberta, Canada.
SIUE's entry-The Cougar Cruiser-was created and built by a 15-student team from the SIUE School of Engineering, with the help of donations from the School, area businesses, and interested individuals.
A solar car stores the sun's energy in on-board batteries, but if there's not much sun ... well, do the math. We may ask how some 20 other solar cars continued in the race, which is expected to end tomorrow at the finish line in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. The larger schools presumably could afford more efficient and lightweight lithium batteries, but even some of those couldn't survive the lack of sun.
"There was only 30 minutes of sunshine, remarkably, during the lunch break (just before the race began July 17) when everyone had to be off the track," said Andy Lozowski, assistant professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering and advisor to the solar car team.
"Other than that, we had clouds and rain. Our car really needs sun to go, since it is heavy and uses inexpensive off-the-shelf lead-acid batteries. The NASC judges decided to let us participate in the race upon the condition that we make the first 200-mile leg of the race on time, and going at least 25mph on average.
"The car picked up from the start, climbed a big incline on one of the roads out of Austin without difficulty and we were off to Wetherford near Dallas.
"Our only concern was ... no sun again," Lozowski said. "There were several hurricanes in the gulf, which brought a lot of storm clouds to Texas. During the trip we had only five minutes of sunshine. The road there was also quite wavy; many of those little hills to go over. This was extremely power-expensive. All cars were running on the batteries, with no charging whatsoever from solar rays.
"We even passed a few cars standing on the side of the road.
Northwestern University's entry caught on fire and burned up beyond usability," he said. "We saw white flames from their lithium-ion battery pack. Unfortuinately, the same fate (dropping out of the race) also happened to us and, eventually, we ran out of power and had to stop at the 124-mile mark."
The NASC called for participants to race-without exceeding the speed limit-through Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota, North Dakota, and into Canada. This is the first solar car race to cross an international border, and this is the first time SIUE has participated in NASC.
Three SIUE students were to take turns behind the wheel of the Cougar Cruiser. Drivers race from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. each day. The rest of the team provided any needed maintenance, and drove the lead and chase cars.
"We felt the judges decision was fair," Lozowski said. And, no one's complaining, he added. Lozowski also pointed out that this is an experience the students will treasure forever, not to mention the experience factors involving teamwork and planning that will help them build an even better Couger Cruiser to enter the NASC in 2007.
For now, though, Lowzowski said team members would like to drive the Cougar Cruiser around Illinois, visiting sponsors to thank them for supporting the effort. "Our team members are talking a lot about what changes to make on the car, how to reduce its weight and improve it. It was a great satisfaction that we had no technical failure, not even a flat tire. All that was under our control went well."
Jacob Van Roekel, associate dean in the School of Engineering and another advisor to the team, said plans also are in the works for an Illinois State Solar Challenge sometime over the next 6 - 8 weeks. "There were four Illinois teams of the 20 that qualified (for the NASC)," Van Roekel said.
"We are thinking that we would start at the Northwestern University campus, race to Illinois State campus in Normal and spend an hour there for a campus rally; race to the Principia campus at Elsa for another rally; and finish at the SIUE campus for a barbecue and rally," Van Roekel said. "I have already talked to the Chancellor and he thinks this is a great idea."
NASC sponsors include the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), Natural Resources Canada, and the DOE's National Renewable Energy Laboratory. The NASC event is designed to inspire young people to pursue careers in science and engineering.
Erin J. Prater, of Pleasant Hill, was honored with the Wall Street Journal Student Achievement Award. Prater is a 2005 graduate with a bachelor of science in accounting.
Prater will begin a graduate program at SIUE this fall. She says, "After completing a master of science in Accountancy, I plan to sit for the CPA exam and pursue a career in tax accounting."
Prater is a member of Beta Alpha Psi, a national accounting honor society; Tau Alpha Chi, a professional organization established to promote scholastic excellence in the field of taxation; and the SIUE Accounting Club.
She also participated in the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program, sponsored by the School of Business, assisting low- income families with tax preparation. In addition, Prater received the Stuart E. White Accounting Scholarship and the Outstanding Senior Accounting Award.
The Wall Street Journal Student Achievement Award is a collaborative effort between the Journal and participating institutions to honor exceptional students. Each participating college or university may nominate one student every year. At SIUE, departments in the School of Business were asked to submit the name of an outstanding student from their respective departments to the dean of the School, who then selected the winner from among those nominated.
Dean Gary A. Giamartino said, "The Wall Street Journal Student Achievement Award is recognized by our faculty and students as representing outstanding student accomplishments. Erin's future is bright and we expect her to continue to be a leader as a professional accountant."
The Wall Street Journal presented Prater with a complete student award package including a commemorative award medallion made of sculpted brass and embedded in a Lucite paperweight; a one-year subscription to the Wall Street Journal; a congratulatory letter; and a published listing of Prater's name in a full-page announcement in the Wall Street Journal.