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NU Solar Car Racing Across Country

The Northwestern Solar Car Team (NUsolar) has officially qualified and is now racing across the country in the American Solar Challenge, which began June 20 and ends June 26.

Sixteen Northwestern students, one faculty advisor, two support vehicles and one solar car departed campus June 10 for a week of "scrutineering," or qualifying trials, which they successfully passed in fourth place. The team is racing an improved version of the car they raced in the 2008 American Solar Challenge, but this time they are racing more than 1,200 miles from the starting line in Tulsa, Okla., to the finish line in Naperville, Ill., hitting speeds around 40 mph.

At Naperville High School, solar cars will cross finish line between 12 p.m. and 4 p.m. An awards ceremony will take place at 6:30 p.m. in Wentz Concert Hall, immediately followed by a cocktail reception.

The Museum of Science and Industry will host a celebration for race participants June 27 from 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. The solar car will be on display June 28 to July 6.

Northwestern's team, with students from a range of schools and disciplines, has worked nonstop on the vehicle during the past two years, creating a car with a lightweight body constructed from Boeing carbon fiber. The vehicle, called sc5, is powered by 21.5 percent efficient SunPower solar cells and also harnesses the latest lithium-ion battery technology. (The car is called sc5 because it is the fifth solar car built by NUsolar in the past 12 years.)

The demanding race is seven full days of pressure, thinking on one's feet and teamwork. Team members must consider sunlight and battery power to determine how fast and long they can go each day. Northwestern's car can run for about three to four hours off a fully charged battery; the car also charges while it races but is dependent on how sunny or cloudy the day is. Teams are allowed two hours each morning to charge their batteries, followed by nine hours of racing, with the day ending with two more hours of charging time.

Along the race route team members will work in a variety of areas, including analyzing the stream of data received from the car, strategy and determining the optimal speed, mechanical and electrical troubleshooting and keeping an eye on the weather. The team also will be reporting its daily progress using Facebook, Twitter and a blog (

For more information on Northwestern's solar car and the team, go to For more information on the American Solar Challenge, go to