Iowa State solar car team drives its renewable energy message across the state

AMES, Iowa -- Fusion can still put on a show of speed and efficiency.

And so 13 of the students who make up Iowa State University's Team PrISUm will take their solar race car on a SunRun around the state May 7-11. They'll show the car to elementary, middle school and high school students. They'll stop at a community college, an aviation museum and the Science Center of Iowa. They'll talk up the value of renewable energy and the fun of innovation. And they'll answer lots of questions about the car designed, built and raced by Iowa State students.

Fusion, racing long and low and sporting purple and blue racing flames on its aerodynamic wheel covers, competed in the 2005 North American Solar Challenge. It raced the 2,494.9 miles from Austin, Texas, to Calgary, Alberta, Canada, in 71.5 hours. That was good enough for third place in the challenge's stock class.

When the students show off the car, "We'll talk about solar cells and how we can use them," said Tina Tran, an Iowa State senior from Keokuk who's studying mechanical engineering and is Team PrISUm's outreach director. "We also want kids to be involved in innovation. And we want to raise awareness of being more environmentally friendly."

The Iowa State students will also have something to say about the next North American Solar Challenge in the summer of 2008.

Sarah Kelly -- a junior from Rochester, Minn., who's studying mechanical engineering and is Team PrISUm's project director -- said students have just about completed the design work for their next solar race car. She said the race's rules have changed a little bit and drivers must sit in more of an upright position. So the next car will be a lot taller than Fusion and will look more like a production car.

Construction of the new car should start this summer, Kelly said.

The fund raising for it never ends: Kelly said the team hopes to raise $150,000 in cash and more than $250,000 in contributions of aluminum, carbon fiber, Kevlar and other materials.

And will the Iowa State students try to recruit some future Team PrISUm members while they're touring the state?

Oh yes, Tran said, "We're always hoping to do that."