Intelligent, but sleep-deprived: This is the first phrase that comes to mind when one thinks about Northwestern engineers. Add to the mix the design, construction and maintenance of an entire solar car — well, let’s just say the graph in our shop indicates a negative relationship between knowledge and sleep. Basically, choose one.
Any given chunk of time on the team’s Google calendar contains a series of weekly meetings. Tuesday night, we gather in a classroom at Tech to hear a rough overview of the mechanical and electric work going on as well as sponsorship updates. It gives us a general picture of the team’s progress, and reminds us that wires and solar panels will somehow all fit together in the end to form a sleek race car. As the ASC approaches, Tuesday meeting agendas contain more and more deadlines. They also contain practical information, such as packing lists for members going on the race. Right now, however, we have time to concentrate on the design of next year’s car and make sure the current car remains primed for success in the spring.
Every Thursday, members get the chance to mingle with the team’s advisers. Then follows a series of meetings, which are not so much meetings as opportunities to work on the car. The work can seem overwhelming; we keep 15 hours a week devoted to electric design and 14 hours to mechanical design. It helps that we can wander in and out as we get the chance. At the moment, the design requires a lot of computer work, rather than the hands-on tasks that tend to be more fun. This week, mocking up the driver’s seat in the new car will add some variety. It’s an important task, since the size of the driver’s seat dictates which of our members can drive.
Sprinkled among these meetings, outreach events provide opportunities for us to talk about solar energy in the public sphere.
So we don’t get 8 hours of sleep every night. But we love what we’re doing. The ability to build something big, like a solar car, that can contribute green energy technology to society motivates us to keep coming to the meetings and work sessions. Even in the dead of winter when the snow lies in six inch heaps on campus, and the temptation of hibernation increases exponentially with every dropped Fahrenheit degree.