Northwestern Solar Car Team: Hands-On Engineering

Northwestern Solar Car Team: Hands-On Engineering


(bouncy electronic music) – My name’s Alexander Martin. – My name is Dan Li. – I’m Alex Silver. – My name is Kerui. – And I am a senior here
at Northwestern University. I’m a dual degree student
studying mechanical engineering and violin performance
in the music school. – I am a senior, ready to graduate, studying mechanical engineering. – I am a senior, majoring in material science and engineering. – I’m majoring in computer science. – And, I’m the current project manager of the Northwestern Solar Car Team. – I am the chief mechanical
engineer on the team. – As a senior mechanical member, I manage individual
projects as they come up. – And, I’m the publicity
manager for the Solar Car Team. – So, the Solar Car Team was
started by a group of students in 1997 here at Northwestern University, like, probably five
students and three advisors, who got together and wanted to participate in the solar car racing. Solar car racing has been
around since the mid-70s. – The Solar Car Team primarily
competes in an annual race. It is a annual track race,
the Formula Sun Grand Prix. Basically, the premise
of the race is that, at the beginning, you start
off with a full battery pack, that is fully charged, but
then once the race begins, for the next three days, or five days for the cross-country race, all your energy must come from the sun, and the solar array must
be attached to your car. So, basically, they
impound your batteries, they make sure you’re not
charging them through other means, but it’s essentially, using every last drop of energy you have to make a car go as far as you can. So, there’s the two different races. The track race, it drives by itself, there’s obviously other
teams driving the circuit at the same time, so that limits the pace, but mostly you just set your speed based on what’s most efficient. And then, over the road,
the cross-country race, we have a whole convoy,
lead car and a chase car, and at that point, I think,
it’s still the solar car that sets the speed, ’cause we want them to get their max efficiency. – Everybody on the team
gets to drive the car. We don’t find the lightest person. So, in the regulations, it has that, if you wish to drive the car, if you are under 80 kilograms, or 176 lbs, basically, you get a bag of lead shot, where they add to you to
ballast you to the same weight, so, everybody gets to drive the car, unless you’re, I mean, even if, I weigh more than that, so. I designed it, I’m saying
I’m gonna drive it. (laughs) – Academically, there’s no sort of course where I would be learning
the variety of skills that I’ve learned through this. – In classes, you primarily
have a lot of theory, in terms of engineering
and applied engineering, but the Solar Car Team really allows you to take what you’ve
learned in the classroom and actually be able
to physically apply it, and see what works, what doesn’t work, because it’s very different when you’re talking about
ideals on the blackboard versus when you’re actually here and you try to fit two
assemblies together, and you realize there’s
some tolerance mismatch, or some parts that don’t fit
together, and they should, and it just gives you a
better sense and perspective of what the difficulties of a project and the difficulties of engineering are. – The hands-on experience is
the number one thing you get. Our mission statement, of NU Solar, is that we are trying to
build better engineers, we just happen to do it
by building a solar car. – I guess NU Solar is run a
little bit like a startup, where we have this business. I had to take care of
funding for our team, which would be sponsorship, we also have company relations, we talk to, say Boeing and stuff, and then ask for any kind of donations, and make sure we good
company relations with them. – So, the build cycle for
the car usually is around, most universities come out
with a new car every two years, and they’re always trying to approach the peaks of aerodynamic efficiency, electrical efficiency in
terms of the battery choice, battery selection, and
also pay special attention to your solar cells, as well. – This is SC6, this is our 6th Solar Car. It’s what’s called a monocoque car, which means it doesn’t
have an internal frame. All the main loads of
the car are supported by these two carbon-fiber
ribs, and then this shell, which is also made of carbon fiber, supports the car this way,
and keeps it from bending. Inside here, about 400 individual
lithium-ion battery cells. Each one’s at about 3.9
volts, and we package them into modules of 13 cells each, to get the appropriate amount of current. What you just saw was the bottom half, and this is the top half,
or the top shell, for short. These are all of our
solar cells which allow us to recharge the batteries
while we’re driving, using the power from the sun. They are monocrystalline
silicon, which means that each one of these blue
squares is a single crystal, with no imperfections. So, they’re incredibly difficult to make. We don’t make them, we buy them, but they’re also really easily damaged, so if you dent a cell, it
basically damages the entire cell, and so it won’t produce as much energy, which is why you have to be incredibly careful with some of these. This knob, if the car is on fire, and you need to turn off
the car, you hit this knob. It won’t stop the fire, but it will disconnect the batteries, so hopefully not
exacerbating the situation. (high-energy electronic music) What employers really value
is the fact that you have done something more than the
bare minimum, in a sense, you’ve done more than
achieving for your degree, which is not an easy feat, but, you have to stand
out amongst your peers, and then, what they really care about, is that it is a true
engineering extracurricular. You have to optimize structures, you have to really care
about all the load cases, and the lifespan of your vehicle, what it will endure
during its service life, and these are all very
real engineering problems that you do for anywhere. (high-energy electronic music) – If you enjoyed this video,
and want to learn more about student organizations at
top colleges, just subscribe. Guys, I can’t go forward,
there’s a camera there.


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