Solar Vehicle Project gives U students hands-on engineering experience

One of the University’s most complex and remarkable pieces of machinery lies in the depths of a St. Paul storage center, waiting to be taken apart and examined by eager minds.

The machine is Borealis II, the University’s sixth-generation solar vehicle.

Built by students of the University Solar Vehicle Project to be both reliable and efficient, the Borealis II weighs 450 pounds and has an optimum speed of 55 mph. It also uses about the same amount of power as a hair dryer.

Students started the Solar Vehicle Project in 1990 to gain hands-on experience in engineering.

First-year aerospace engineering student Greg Sindberg said preparing to build the University’s next solar car is teaching him lessons he cannot learn in class.

“It is more similar to problems that one would face in the real-world industry,” Sindberg said. “Being involved in the project is helping me to prepare for that.”

Although the team works toward worldwide races of more than 2000 miles, students said the team’s goal is not only to win competitions.

“It’s learning process,” junior astrophysics major and project manager Trevre Andrews said. “The cars are used as design examples. We take apart the cars, look at how they are made, then put them back together.”

The team holds seminars once per week. Currently, the students are learning about the car’s mechanics, but soon they will break into teams to work on sections of the car.

Although the majority of the team members are Institute of Technology students, the project is not exclusive to any major or college.

“The solar car project is a really good activity no matter what your major is,” Andrews said. “Engineering is something that everyone uses whether they know it or not.”

Aside from engineering, the project concentrates on planning, deadlines, resource use, business strategies and money-tracking skills.

“The logistics are just as important as the building of the car,” Andrews said.

The Solar Vehicle Project is a volunteer project, and students meet outside of class each week.

Andrews said besides being a learning aid, participating in the Solar Vehicle Project can be a good time and a nice way to wind down.

“Plus we get to use tools and start things on fire,” Andrews said. “Sometimes you just need a place to vent.”