KANSAS CITY, Mo. — In a feat of modern engineering, university students from around the United States departed Independence, Missouri, on a race in vehicles powered solely by the sun.
“The solar cells on the array charge a battery pack which is where we store the energy and then send that energy to the motors to drive,” said Sheldon Salins, a rising senior at the University of Kentucky, who is competing in the race called the American Solar Challenge.
The timed event calls on drivers to basically follow the Santa Fe Trail from Independence to Santa Fe, New Mexico. To celebrate the 200th anniversary of the trail, a mule-pulled wagon ceremoniously began the race. Much more high-tech cars followed the wagon.
Most of the cars were covered in solar cells, and molded into aerodynamic shapes with just enough room for one or two passengers. The cars do not have air conditioning and can reach speeds of over 70 miles per hour. During the race from Tuesday to Saturday, drivers must obey all traffic laws. A support vehicle trails each racer.
Salins said he believes his work on this project will stand out later.
"We get a lot of really good real-world experience which we can put on resumes and take to jobs,” Salins said.
No universities from Missouri or Kansas competed in this year’s event.