Solar Panthers finish strong at world championship

The sun played hide-and-seek with the clouds, yet that didn’t prevent the Solar Panthers from shining brightly at the 2011 Solar Splash World Championship of Intercollegiate Solar Boat Racing. UNI hosted the event June 8 through 12 at George Wyth State Park in Cedar Falls.

UNI's Solar Panthers boat pulls away from the competition in the sprint finalsThe seven-student Solar Panthers team captured fourth place overall behind Ohio’s Cedarville University (first place), the University of New Orleans (second place) and Turkey’s Istanbul Technical University (third place).

UNI placed first in the Visual Display category, which recognized the clarity and visual appeal of the information about the Solar Panther boat, and third in the Solar Endurance event, which monitored how far the boat could go in two hours. The University of New Orleans placed first and Cedarville University placed second in this event.

"Solar Splash officials were very impressed with UNI's host and performance," said Reg Pecen, Solar Panthers adviser and UNI industrial technology professor. "Everyone among the visiting team members, as well as the officials, were very happy to have the competition in Iowa. I wish we would have more sunlight for the event, but it was not in our hands."

The teams and officials will have a chance to return to Cedar Falls in 2012 and 2013 – and hopefully experience more sunshine – when UNI once again hosts the Solar Splash World Championship during the second week of June. "I believe this time we should pray [for] more…sunny days!" said Pecen.

Bringing the Solar Panthers boat out of the water following a qualifying heatSixteen college and university teams from across the country, two university teams from Mexico, one university team from Turkey and one high school team from Minnesota participated in this year’s event. And some of the teams even had a chance to look around campus and use some of UNI’s outstanding facilities.

"One of the most impressive characteristics of hosting the championship was the availability of the manufacturing and electronics labs for the teams to use for last-minute, hands-on work and project work," said Pecen. "We used to go to local hardware shops to do last-minute troubleshooting, such as welding, cutting, machining, etc. and pay so much money. Many thanks to Steve Burdette, our department technician, who offered impressive help to visiting teams."

In recent years, recruiting and retaining students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields have received a great deal of national attention. "Solar Splash is an initiative that promotes clean, zero-emission transportation technologies in all United States waters," said Pecen. "[It works] to gain the attention of young Americans to STEM-related careers as baby boomers start to retire in many engineering and technology fields.

"Designing, building, testing and troubleshooting solar-powered boats, as well as developing teamwork skills, have been excellent ways of involving many students in STEM-related careers,” continued Pecen. "I am very happy to see our students involved in promising future technological innovations."

UNI's Solar Panthers Team