Students Hope Solar Car Will Beat World Records

The SUNY New Paltz Solar Car Research Team is hoping to make history this year by designing a solar car that would make break speed records and make it into the Guinness Book of World Records.

The three-student team, one of the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics’  research projects, is trying to reach a speed of 100 mph, surpassing the current Guinness record of 56 mph. The team strives to exceed the record by eliminating the battery power and relying strictly on solar energy.

A solar car without a battery could go faster because the car will be lighter. Without the extra power the battery supplies, the group has to design a more efficient vehicle, which requires only power supplied by solar cells, Luke Stover, fourth-year physics and adolescent education double major, said.

According to Stover, all three students were involved in SIAM prior to the start of this group, and were all interested in discovering the research and background behind designing a solar car. Faculty mentor, Diego Dominici, gathered the students and started the project.

“Don’t expect a complete car at the end of the semester,” Stover added. “This year we will be working on the theoretical car design.”

The team last year attempted to break the record but could not because they did not emphasize the mathematical process behind reaching the maximum speed, Colin Morrell, fourth-year physics major, said.

“The equation didn’t work out for the team last year because they used too much negative force and not enough positive force,” he said.

Energy from the sun is the positive force that they have on their side, Stover explained, while the negative forces are what fight against the car. Air pushing around the car at high speeds and the friction of wheels against the road are the negative forces, which prevent movement.

The team this year will be taking a different approach by concentrating on mathematics in the research process. The group will also be receiving help and funding from the Academic Year Undergraduate Research Experience program, which connects the undergraduate students with a faculty mentor to further the educational experience in their field of studies. The faculty mentors direct and guide the students in the projects during the semester. Each student meets with their faculty mentor every week to discuss progress and problems that occur during the semester.

AYURE, a SUNY New Paltz funded program, provides the researchers with textbooks and computer programs for evaluating equations, totaling $750.

Stover said the group, throughout the semester, will be applying Newton’s laws of physics and tweaking with force equations for drag and rolling resistance, to get a solid background in the theoretical design. They will also be exploring exotic aerodynamic touches, using inspiration from airplanes and hang gliders, and applying them to the aerodynamical design of the car,  Joe Ruotolo, fifth-year physics major said.

The group plans to name their car after the sugar glider, an aerodynamic mammal in Australia. When this animal’s legs are stretched out, it’s membrane allows glide distances of 50 to 150 meters. The team stumbled upon this animal during their research and began studying its habits and forms of movement.

The research team plans on building the solar car in the summer or fall semester, if they have enough funding. Building the car will cost more than $100,000, Stover said.

The students stress that it is a lot easier for corporate sponsors to fund a project like this if they can see the mathematical background and that they can actually build this design using the equations.

“Doing the mathematical background and research is the preliminary step to gain more capital to open new funding and receive new grants,” Ruotolo said.

The solar car team will share their results and research at the Hudson River Undergraduate Mathematics Conference in Springfield, Mass. on April 21, and at a research symposium at the SUNY New Paltz Sojourner Truth Library on May 6.

For information, contact the solar car team at

Michael LaPick

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