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The metaphysical foundation of the Principia Solar Car team sets it apart from every other solar car team in the world. Faculty advisor John Broere said that in 2000, the team adopted the metaphysical theme, “glorify God and always do our best.” Amidst the pressures of racing an experimental vehicle across the Australian Outback, the team makes reading the weekly lesson a top priority. Junior Megan Brown said: “There are so many opportunities for mortal mind to distract you. It’s not like we’re walking around passing out copies of Science and Health, but it’s really cool to see that expression of love and joy in action.”
The team has had the opportunity to race the solar car in many places across the globe, including China, Taiwan, Greece, Australia and North America. Team member and 2010 Principia College graduate Mark Evans said: “Most of our races have been cross-country races. The team has had the opportunity to race from Texas to Canada as well across the entire continent of Australia. One of the amazing things about solar car is that it’s a team. The team members might stay awake for three days straight working on a specific project. You get to know each other pretty well. You get to see a different side of people, how they interact, and realize you are there to help each other prepare for the race.”
This year, the Principia Solar Car team is making preparations to compete in the World Solar Car Challenge in Australia in fall 2011. The team is rebuilding the car, which they have named “Ra 7s.” The event organizers have introduced new regulations in an attempt to level the playing field. Broere said that the intent of the organizers is to “slow down the faster teams by making them think more and not have an abundance of energy. That’s the rationale behind the changes.” The technical requirements for the 2011 race have also changed, which has inspired a new level of creativity and strategy in the use of materials.
The Principia team has purchased exceptionally powerful cells made of gallium arsenide from the NASA space program. These cells were designed for use on NASA’s satellites. Evans said: “We obtained these cells because they have slight imperfections that would make them unsuitable in space. We get them for a big discount, although they are still very expensive.” The organizers of the World Solar Challenge also regulate the number of gallium arsenide cells that may be used on each car. Broere said: “We’re going to put silicon cells on the new upper body. The gallium arsenide cells are 27 ½ % efficient. The silicon cells are about 23% efficient.” Therefore, in order to comply with the new regulations, the team will sacrifice energy efficiency, as well as the amount of batteries that may be used. The new name reflects the use of silicon cells as opposed to the gallium arsenide cells. Evans said: “It’s not really a new car so we’re not making it Ra 8. It’s really Ra 7s. The “s” stands for silicon.”
Twenty-three students signed up for the solar car team this quarter. They meet on Mondays and Saturdays. Many students also put in numerous additional hours. Junior Genevieve Bergeson said: “We try to put out a newsletter every quarter. I edit the articles to give the solar car team additional publicity. We conduct outreach programs, talk to schools, and display the car in these educational settings.”
Two documentary filmmakers noted the team’s camaraderie during the 2009 Australia race. They noticed that there was certainly something bigger going on with the Principia Solar Car team. Brown said: “It’s really fun to be able to witness that sense of camaraderie and fellowship between other teams. It’s fascinating to see the composition of it.”
The World Solar Car Challenge in Australia is highly anticipated. Several members of the team are planning on giving up their spring break to prepare. Former Solar Car Team member and Principia College 2010 graduate Justin Sinichko said, “It really stretches you farther than you’ve gone in your whole life.” Being a part of the solar car team offers many opportunities with leadership, in addition to the technical aspect of the project. Brown said: “It’s a misconception about solar car that you have to be super technical to join it. By the end of the quarter, many people become more comfortable with it, whether it’s picking up a drill, taking on a leadership role, or being more vocal with suggestions about the car. It really is a lot of fun.”
For more information, take a look at the solar car website at http://principiasolarcar.com/.