Skip to main content

Video: Teamwork fuels Illinois State solar car

The students on Illinois State University’s Solar Car Team spent the past year planning, building, and testing their new car. This summer they had the chance to test out their handiwork at the Formula Sun Grand Prix in Austin, Texas.

Each year Illinois State is one of less than 30 teams that travel from all over the world to compete in the event held at the Circuit of the Americas. This year, the grand prix served as the qualifier for the American Solar Challenge (ASC), a 1,700-mile, cross-country road race.

Despite a small team of less than 10 undergraduate and graduate students, ISU’s Solar Car Team has an incredible track record of success, regularly placing on the podium. Team members chalk it up to their dedication and to the sharing of knowledge that takes place between veteran students and new racers.

The car takes countless hours to build, said Sarah Noll ’12, the team’s president and a master’s student in applied economics. Noll earned her ISU undergraduate degree in renewable energy.

Camera films solar car team

Illinois State videographer Adam Rahn traveled to Texas with the ISU Solar Car Team for the Formula Sun Grand Prix.

“My friends are out Saturday night partying, and we’re down in the shop soldering,” said Noll. “Because that’s what we want to do. We want to build something that’s really good.”

During the Formula Sun Grand Prix in July, the track was buzzing with the sound of solar-cell-fueled motors as teams raced against the clock to qualify for the ASC.

Illinois State’s team was a crowd favorite, with race competitors and officials constantly stopping by to check out its car. This year the team built a new car, which it does every two years. Despite flat tires, broken solar panels, faulty batteries, and a fire that ultimately ruined their chances of competing in the road race, the Illinois State team returned from Texas in good spirits.

“It’s kind of cool being part of a team like this, because this is nothing like anything I’ve ever done before. We were on huge time crunches. We had to make deadlines to race this car,” said Nick Reichman, a senior engineering technology major and the team’s lead machinist.

The ISU Solar Car Team, comprised of students from many different majors with help from faculty advisors and sponsors, offers a unique learning experience for those interested in science, engineering, and technology. It also shows the benefits of alternative energy.

Team leaders say they’re always looking for new members.

“I really want the club to grow. I want more people to know about it,” Noll said. “I want it to be a successful legacy to leave behind when I graduate.”

As for next year’s race, the team will return to the basement of the Science Laboratory Building and start again, putting everything they learned into their next car.

Adam Rahn can be reached at