2011 Finalist: Excellence In Science And Technology Public Awareness
Student Volunteers Inspire, Educate And Captivate The Public With Solar Car
The University of Calgary Solar Team (Solar Team) endeavours to advance and discover the potential of alternative energy technologies. The team’s mission is to use their increased understanding from the construction and racing of the Schulich Axiom solar car to contribute to innovation and ingenuity in Alberta, while educating and captivating people in the community.
Founded in 2004, the Schulich Axiom Project is the third-generation solar car designed, built, operated and managed by a multi-faculty team of U of C students. The Solar Team has sponsorships from a variety of foundations and energy corporations. Most of the 40 Solar Team members are undergraduate students from an array of faculties.
“We are all volunteers and all of our work is extra-curricular,” says Business Manager and Co-Chair Brandon Heenan. “It’s more than just the design, construction and testing of the Axiom. Students run the business of the team, the logistics and the sponsorships. We are the future leaders in technology and innovation, so this is giving us a chance to work within a team to see how things work in the real world.”
One of the key mandates of the solar car program is to encourage the next generation of scientists and engineers through school visits and appearances at public events. Twice monthly throughout the school year, the team visits elementary and junior high schools in the Calgary area. The focus of the visits is the solar car, but the real message is that science and technology are great career choices.
The Solar Team has created an affiliation with Calgary Academy, where members of the Solar Team guide chemistry students in building their own alternative energy cars of any size. Mr. Heenan says what excites him most about the project is bringing the solar car to schools and seeing the reactions it gets from the students.
“Kids get really excited by it.”
Members of the Solar Team Building have expanded their understanding of sustainable technology by building the vast majority of the Schulich Axiom from the ground up. They are involved with the entire process and can see how the parts fit together to create the whole. This knowledge also allows the team to perform complex troubleshooting should technical difficulties occur during solar challenges. Volunteers view all of the challenges they encounter as potential for learning, growing and creating more public interest. They continuously research and innovate sustainable technologies with the intention of creating cost-effective technology that is available to the public.
The team recently reduced the cost of the Schulich Axiom’s solar panels by 95 per cent, from $80,000 to $4,000. And they improved the design to reduce the car’s weight by approximately 150 pounds. When losing a pound of weight is equivalent to gaining two minutes in time, this decreased weight will make a significant difference for the team in the 3,000-kilometre World Solar Challenge.
Having successfully raced several international solar-powered vehicle races since 2005, the team is preparing to race the third generation Schulich Axiom in the World Solar Challenge in Australia this October.
The global presence of the Solar Team and its ability to inspire interest locally are beneficial to the reputation of the University of Calgary, Calgary, Alberta and Canada.