Three UO students advance in national solar design competition
From bike seat covers to pop-up tents, students demonstrate ingenuity, innovation--
What started as a Product Design 101 class for three University of Oregon students has morphed into grants of more than $1,000 per student to help develop prototypes for innovative solar energy applications – and a chance to win $10,000 in cash.
The three were notified in November that they passed the first hurdle in the “Innovative Design Competition to Develop Next Generation Applications for Portable Power,” sponsored by Ascent Solar Technologies, Inc. Their selection to move into the second phase of the competition qualifies each student for the $1,000 prototype funding plus a shot at major cash prizes and interviews for internships at the Colorado solar products developer.
Above: Rachel Shedden and Curtis Olson designed covers for bicycle seats with solar cells for charging cell phones, laptops and similar electronic devices. Photo by Ricci Cande.
UO students Justin Mellott, Curtis Olson, and Rachel Shedden started the process in Associate Professor Kiersten Muenchinger’s PD 101 class this past fall term, which included an assignment to research and implement new technology using solar panels. Mellott formulated the idea of using solar technology in pop-up tents (think vendors at the local farmers’ market) where credit card machines could be charged and used to streamline processes. Olson and Shedden created bike seat covers that could be used for charging cell phones, laptops, etc.
The competition “is designed to allow college students to become familiar with Ascent’s transformational flexible solar technology, as well as to showcase the portable solar power applications possible with Ascent’s flexible modules,” says Justin Jacobs, Ascent’s marketing coordinator.
Ascent’s solar panels are lightweight, flexible thin-film modules that have been used traditionally for military and space applications. Because of their unique design, the solar panels eliminate the need for wires, cables, or other clunky connectors.
For Muenchinger’s class, the Department of Finance and Administration (through the assistance of Sustainability Director Steve Mital) provided an initial $2,000 to help students buy materials necessary to progress with their work.
“It was really a collaborative and interdisciplinary effort between departments on campus,” Muenchinger says. “I had no idea that three of our students would be selected for this; all that happens now is prepping for a timeline and making sure [students] get the guidance they need to develop a working prototype.”
The selected teams have until March 20, 2012, to design and test their working prototypes before submitting the final project to Ascent. The winners will be announced on April 1, 2012.
Prizes of $10,000, $5,000 and $3,000 will be awarded to the winning individual or team. The first-place winners will be flown to Ascent’s production facility in Thornton, Colorado, for the awards ceremony, a tour of the facility, and interviews for internships with Ascent.
The other colleges selected for the competition are: Boston University, Rochester Institute of Technology, San Diego State University, Texas A&M University and University of California, Berkeley.
More information about the competition can be found at: www.ascentsolar.com/competition
– Story by Emily Wilson