By Patricia Daukantas
The contestants were anxiously testing their wheels and transmissions. The crowd was milling about. And the race was on!
Just as the Tuesday morning Frontiers in Optics (FiO) sessions wrapped up, the final round of the first-ever OSA Student Chapter International Solar Car Race hit the ballroom floor in the exhibit hall. (As previously noted, northern California was getting hit with a rare typhoon remnant, so it was a good thing the track was indoors.)
OPN contributing editor François Busque of Montréal, Canada, reminded everyone that the 28-cm rule was still in effect: the distance between the light source and the solar cells on the small plastic cars had to be 28 cm. Each competitor would have three rounds in the finals. OSA staff member KiKi L’Italien and OPN contributor Carlos Lopez-Mariscal (National Institute of Science and Technology, U.S.A.) did the recordkeeping and timekeeping.
Student chapters had received identical car kits in the weeks before FiO, but they were encouraged to modify the basic design. The nine entries demonstrated plenty of creativity, from three-wheeled roadsters to the University of Tennessee’s “five-wheel tractor trailer concept,” to use Busque’s words.
That Tennessee vehicle, first off the starting line in the first round, tipped over when its “driver” (who was also pushing the light source to keep it above the car) gave it a course correction. The second entry, from an association of Colombian student chapters, set a straight and true course and an 8.22-s mark that other teams would have to beat.
The crowd cheered as some contestants “spun donuts” and one even “did wheelies” like a drag racer. When the Ecole Polytechnique de Montréal’s driver, Jean-Simon Corbeil, stepped forward with the Fresnel-lens-equipped winner of Sunday’s aesthetics award, hopes ran high in the audience that the concentrator would make the car zip along. BUT … the car just sat there on the sideline with its motor spinning. Busque noted that the car would get two more tries to get things right.
As the competition continued, Laval University of Canada, whose student chapter got the time prize on Sunday, maintained its speedy reputation with its fastest run of 6.17 s. However, in the last round, the Georgia Tech of Metz, Lorraine, France chapter entry edged out Laval with a time of just 6.03 s. Sadly, the Fresnel vehicle did not cross the finish line in any of the three trials.
Judging was based on aesthetics, originality, time and completion of the course. The originality prize went to a truly international team: three student chapters from Spain, two from Ireland and one from Poland. Its car was good at making 360-degree turns. “I think it was quite fast without the spinning,” said Monika Leniec of Wroclaw, Poland.
The University of Tennessee team was commended for aesthetics. And the overall prize of $250 went to Metz-Lorraine for that speedy upset finish.
The Georgia Tech second-year grad student in electrical engineering, Jeremy Dickerson, said he was the solo builder of the winning car, because the Metz-Lorraine campus chapter is only a couple of months old. Dickerson, who is studying the use of indium gallium nitride in solar cells, is from Idaho (U.S.A.) originally, but his wife is from France, and they plan to raise their 11-month-old daughter bilingually.
Here are some photos of the competition, again provided by OPN Managing Editor Christina Folz.
Each “driver” had to keep the moving light source centered over the car in order to get enough “solar” power for the car to function.
OSA Honorary Member Roy Glauber (left, in dark vest) watched the proceedings with great interest. He’s one of the three 2005 Nobel laureates for contributions to optics.
Jeremy Dickerson demonstrates the winning technique on the race course.
Tuesday’s competitors pose for a group portrait.
Three cheers for all the entrants! We hope to see you next year, too.