Thursday, December 15, 2011

Green Engineering students use physics principles to build solar and pinewood cars

Another group of Randolph College students has learned how to apply engineering principles to build their own solar-powered cars and help local Cub Scouts improve Pinewood Derby car designs.

The Green Engineering Design course explores how engineers can increase energy efficiency for power plants, manufacturing facilities, and vehicles. Peter Sheldon, a physics professor, developed the course after Edison2, a Lynchburg-based automobile design firm, won $5 million from the X Prize Foundation for building a car that gets more than 100 miles per gallon.

This fall, the students in the class built miniature vehicles powered by solar panels. That project culminated in a race, where the team Stagnetti’s Revenge—consisting of Pujan Shrestha ’15, Alex Kwakye ’15, and Mark Patterson ’15—won first place.

The next day, the class traveled to a church in Lynchburg where they helped local Cub Scouts design, build, and improve Pinewood Derby cars. The same type of engineering that can increase a car’s gas mileage can also help a wooden car speed down a track more quickly, so Randolph’s physics students have built a partnership with local Cub Scout groups to practice engineering principles.

In fact, the Randolph College Society of Physics Students hosts a Pinewood Derby race for the Cub Scouts at its annual Science Festival. The next Science Festival slated for March 22-25 in 2012.

In addition to teaching physics and the Green Engineering course, Sheldon coordinates the College’s dual degree program allowing students to study physics and engineering at Randolph for three years and then complete an engineering degree at a partner institution in two years.

Because engineering can help find solutions to many of the world’s problems, Randolph gives students the chance to learn the concepts of the science in an environment of accessible professors and small classes.