By Laura Cooper
Two dust-coated trophies stand behind a glass case outside the School of Engineering Office. Hundreds of undergraduate students pass these golden statues everyday, looking for guidance from their advisors and for programs in engineering that will further their eventual careers. These statuettes belong to the 1998-99 Solar Splash team for its “Rookie Achievement.”
The past honored Solar Splash team has long since moved on tts students have graduated, and its advisor has left. Up until last year, the boat they constructed and raced in the 1999 competition sat alone, deteriorating in the basement of the Heavy-Engineering building.
But in early 2007, a group of senior undergraduate mechanical engineering students resurrected the twelve-by-four foot, one person boat as part of their senior design project. The boat is now the center of a newly revitalized Solar Splash program and has completed a successful test sail across Roth Pond.
Professor Yu Zhao, a mechanical engineer, saw the short video of the craft crossing the garbage-filled pond. From this, Zhao saw a newfound potential for a program that had gotten lost in the shuffle of engineering projects, including robotics and the better known “Baja Car.”
Professor Zhao, the team’s faculty advisor, said that last year’s team didn’t get the chance to compete in the national competition because of “the lack of money and state of the boat.”
The team needs manpower, along with money. Funds for other such extracurricular projects are already widely distributed and hard to come by in the engineering department. “Right now, we’re currently seeking corporate sponsorship,” said Zhao. “Nothing is easy from the very beginning. We’re reaching out to contacts.” The boat, which needs to be revamped every year, constantly requires funds to provide for building materials, especially if the team plans to compete.
Solar Splash a nationwide competition. The Engineering Departments of a wide range of universities, including Carnegie Mellon University, The College of New Jersey and the Milwaukee School of Engineering. Students build and sail a solar-powered boat, which compete in different locations every year. This year, the competition is in Fayateville, Arkansas.
Although the team formally entered the competition in late March, Jeanne Imhof, captain of the team, and her teammates may not make it to Arkansas. Money is needed to transport the team. The boat can only travel by trailer down to the competition in Fayetteville. While the team is looking for sponsorship to travel, they’re also still lacking materials, including the essential solar panels for the boat, which cost anywhere from $2,000 to $2,500.
“Without a doubt, money is the biggest detriment to our project,” Imhof said. “It’s frustrating to have great ideas but not enough funds to implement them.” Zhao agreed, fearing a waning interest in the upcoming years if the team doesn’t have enough funds to participate at its best in the national competition.
“Five years from now, I see the Stony Brook Solar Boat team as a true competitor in the Solar Splash competition. I also see that it will be a recognizable name around the Stony Brook community,” said Imhof.
Stony Brook University’s Solar Splash team is made up of four to eight students, mostly seniors, though during class visits by the team members freshmen expressed interest, according to Zhao.Team captain Jeanne Imhof got involved with Solar Splash as part of her senior design project and she hopes to broaden the team’s membership even more. “About 30 percent of our team is currently freshmen. For the upcoming year, we plan to advertise, make presentations to lower-division engineering classes, as well as being involved in the involvement fairs early in each semester.”
Zhao will assist the team through the competition this June. Without the funds to travel and build, the Solar Splash program will continue to be in jeopardy despite the work of students trying to add another trophy to the engineering department’s award case. “The students are very motivated, but money is an issue,” said Zhao.