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Houston students show solar car to Kiwanis club

September 13, 2011

By STEVEN NALLEY
citybeat@bellsouth.net

The Houston High School students who make up the Houston Solar Race Team gave a presentation to the Starkville Kiwanis Club at its meeting Tuesday at the Hilton Garden Inn.
The Houston Solar Race Team, led by faculty from HHS and Houston Vocational Center, has won first-place awards in at least one division of every national Solar Car Challenge since 2001. Its winning solar car, Sundancer, was on display at the entrance to the hotel.
Jim Henson, assistant treasurer with the Starkville Kiwanis Club, said the team’s national success today will prepare them for successful careers in the future.
“This is a big deal,” Henson said. “These people, when they go out into the world, they’ll be able to say, ‘We’re national champions.’”
Starting in 2010, HHS split its team up by gender. The girls’ team competes in the classic division, which places strict limitations on cars’ components. The boys’ team competes in the open division, which removes some of these limitations, allowing for more expensive, efficient components.
Whitney George, captain of the girls’ division, said the boys’ Sundancer travels faster than her team’s Sundancer II, but the classic division routinely sees more entrants than the open division. Also, she said, HHS has won the classic division since the inception of the girls’ team.
“Technically, their (car) goes faster, but they have a hub motor,” George said. “If we had what they had, we could go just as fast as they could.”
Keith Reese, an electricity instructor with Houston Vocational Center, said he was grateful to Mississippi State University for their help making the Sundancer cars winners. He said MSU has worked with Georgia Institute of Technology to get more efficient solar cells for Sundancer, cells with nanotechnology that absorb solar energy from several different angles at once.
“MSU is one of the main reasons we’ve won,” Reese said. “They’re the ones that assisted us with the design changes. Dr. Marshall Molan and Dr. Mike Mazzola, those two are the ones that helped us redesign the car electrically.”
Reese said he was open to the possibility of a partnership with Calisolar, the solar silicon company based in Sunnyvale, Calif., set to open a new plant in Lowndes County, but nothing is on the table yet.
“Students have already researched that,” Reese said. “We’re interested in teaming up with anybody.”
The Solar Car Challenge alternates between closed-track races at the Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, Texas, and cross-country events from Texas to other states covering thousands of miles.
Every four years, Reese said, HHS also travels to the World Solar Challenge, a race across Australia. So far, he said, the teams have been there twice.
“We’d go to internationals every two years, but it’s just not financially feasible,” Reese said. “You’re looking at more than $100,000.”

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