Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern


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Adler displays NuSolar car

“So, who wants to drive?”

That’s what McCormick senior Vytas Bradunas asked a crew of fellow NuSolar teammates as they began transporting one of their solar cars to the Adler Planetarium in Chicago, where it will be on display for at least one year.

Northwestern’s solar car team, NuSolar, has been building solar energy-powered cars since 1997. This car, ‘Nergy, weighs 1,100 pounds and is powered by solar cells that cover its shell. The cells convert sunlight into energy that is stored in a lead-acid battery pack fueling a motor, which is 97 to 98 percent efficient in its use of power, said McCormick sophomore Phillip Dziedzic, the team’s sponsorship chairman. ‘Nergy went on display Saturday, March 15 at the planetarium. It is the team’s second car and the “most beautiful in terms of aesthetics,” said McCormick junior Michael Awadalla, the team’s research and development chairman.

The car placed 26th in the 2001 American Solar Challenge, a 10-day, 2,300-mile race from Chicago to Los Angeles along Route 66.

NuSolar approached the Adler Planetarium in hopes of finding a new home for ‘Nergy. Prior to the move, it had periodically been on display in the lobby of the Ford Motor Company Engineering Design Center since the building was first erected in 2005.

The six team members had to take the car apart to carry it inside the planetarium. They took the rear wheels and top shell off of the car and rotated the chassis, or the bottom part of the car, vertically to fit through Adler’s narrow doors. The car was then reassembled inside the building.

The solar car “emphasizes that earth science is a part of space science, expanding the understanding of what space science is,” said Julian Jackson, the planetarium’s director of experience design. Jackson oversees the overall experience of patrons and visitors to the planetarium.

Originally founded with a focus on astronomy, the planetarium has been expanding its emphasis on space exploration. The planetarium is also exploring eco-friendly design and incorporating the concept into all of their exhibits. It houses display models of NASA Mars rovers, which also run on solar energy.

“The connection between Northwestern’s solar car team and space exploration is actually very clear there,” Jackson said.

NuSolar alternates between design and build years, in which they plan and construct car models to compete in cross-country racing competitions every two years. While the team is highly dedicated to building sustainable automobile models, members understand that wide commercial use of solar cars is neither practical nor likely to be adopted in the near future, said Patrick Markan, one of the team’s co-captains.

“Most of the driving you do is just transporting yourself, and people would rather have a nice, heavy car than save energy,” the McCormick senior said.

But this does not mean team members feel their efforts are in vain.

“The point is not trying to create a mass-production vehicle, but more of a demonstration,” Markan said. “You can power a (solar) car that goes across the country. That’s definitely viable, and pushes for education and funding for solar energy.”

Supporting alternative energy is one of NuSolar’s three foundational goals, along with team member education and competing in races at the end of each build year, Awadalla said.

By putting one of their cars on display, NuSolar can further spread the idea of sustainable energy beyond NU.

“It’s great to finally see one of our cars in a museum,” Bradunas said. “And it is nice to see it in a place where it will be appreciated.”

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Adler displays NuSolar car