A group of Middle Tennessee State University students will attempt to make waves this week when they compete at the American Society of Mechanical Engineers’ 29th annual Solar Splash, the world championship of collegiate solar boating.
MTSU’s Experimental Vehicles Program solar boat team are leaving at 6 a.m. Tuesday, June 6, heading for Springfield, Ohio, and the five-day competition set for Champions Park Lake at the Clark County Fairgrounds.
A fourth-place finisher overall in 2022, MTSU will be aiming higher this year, competing against multiyear winner Cedarville (Ohio) University and seven other schools, including Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Puerto Rico at Mayaguez.
Teams arrive in time to register and qualify, then compete in slalom, solar endurance and sprint events to determine their overall final results.
“The team is looking a lot better,” said graduate student Lily Hardin of Nashville, Tennessee, who is president of the MTSU Experimental Vehicles Club. “Hopefully, we’ll place at least third or possibly higher.”
Other team members include junior mechatronics major and solar boat captain Daniel Wetter of Murfreesboro; engineering management grad student Ben Garretson of Gallatin, Tennessee, who is charge of the boat’s telemetry/data collection; and Murfreesboro residents Jackson Clemons, a senior mechatronics major, mechatronics sophomore Cody Olsen and sophomore mechanical engineering technology major Kaylin Garner. Garner plans to meet the team later in the week.
Hardin, 23, said “a lot of the teams have professional help” and that Dr. Saeed Foroudastan, College of Basic and Applied Sciences associate dean and director of the Experimental Vehicles Program, “wants us to do it on our own, without professional help.”
The program is a hands-on, experiential learning opportunity for students in mechanical engineering technology, mechatronics engineering and other engineering areas in the Department of Engineering Technology.
As captain, Wetter, 21, will be driving in the slalom and sprint divisions, while Hardin drives in the endurance category. In testing several times in the East Fork of the Stones River at the Mona boat ramp off West Jefferson Pike, their MTSU craft reached a high speed of 33 mph.
Hardin said team members have been working off and on with the boat, which is powered by the sun’s rays, since last fall, but “changed and modified a few things, mostly in the spring semester.”
Wetter, vice president of the MTSU Robotics Club, who developed his love for tinkering while spending 10 years competing in robotics events, said modifications include “the solar panel rays, the fin on the drive train and the gear ratios out of the motors for the drive train optimization.”
Meanwhile, MTSU engineering technology students on the EVP Baja Society of Automotive Engineers, or SAE, team will compete Sept. 6-10 at Nashport, Ohio, one of three such events this year.
Smyrna, Tennessee-based Nissan North America gave the program $5,000 toward expenses for the solar boat and Baja competitions. Sponsors also included Nashville-based Lane Motorsports and the College of Basic and Applied Sciences.
According to the SAE website, Baja SAE teams are tasked with designing and building a single-seat, all-terrain sporting vehicle that is to be a prototype for a reliable, maintainable, ergonomic and economic production vehicle that serves a recreational user market.
The student teams must design, engineer, build, test, promote and compete with a vehicle within the limits of the rules.
— Randy Weiler (Randy.Weiler@mtsu.edu)