November 12, 2009--There were more smiles than usual at this year's Frontiers in Optics (FiO) Conference, OSA's Annual Meeting, thanks to the student solar car races. A large crowd assembled in a corner of the exhibit hall and cheered and jeered as small solar-powered motor cars sped (and twirled) their way towards the finish line, propelled forward by the energy from a 500 W lamp on wheels. All photos courtesy of Nikolay Makarov.
Sponsored by the OSA International Student Chapter, points were given for time to complete the race, originality, and aesthetics, with 5 points deducted for each 'nudge' required to reach the finish line. The car from Georgia Institute of Technology in Lorraine, Metz, France won in the "fastest" category with a transit time of only 6.04 seconds to run the approximate 25 feet (some entries took as long as 41 seconds), and the University of Tennessee and ICONS-ICFO Organization and Network of Students teams won in the "aesthetic" and "original" categories.
While many of the designs were similar and used the basic kit components of a frame, wheels, electric motor, and solar photovoltaic (PV) cell provided to each of the student teams, some entries in the 1st International OSA Student Chapter Solar Mini-Car Competition, as it was formally billed, stood out. Jean-Simon Corbeil from École Polytechnique de Montréal attempted to focus the lamp energy using a Fresnel zone plate precariously perched above the PV cell using rods and binder clips. Unfortunately, this particular vehicle would not budge on the first of its three runs (the best times were taken over the best of three runs to determine the winner in the "fastest" category). Another standout was the University of Tennessee with their three-wheeled car, designed for reduced weight. Unfortunately, three wheels did not end up steering very straight. The entrant from a group of Student Chapters, although it looked similar to other stock vehicles, made a curious show of circular twists and turns (and required assistance by being gently 'kicked' back into the race to stay on track).
The event was a welcome break amid the typically serious academic venue that characterizes FiO. Look for the 2nd International OSA Student Chapter Solar Mini-Car Competition to take place at FiO 2010 in Rochester, NY.
For more information, contact OSA Chapter and Student Services at [email protected].
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