World Solar Challenge: The Disciplines

Some of the disciplines on Nuon’s team in 2013 (adapted from this map of science)

Building and racing a solar car is not easy. Many areas of expertise are required, with typical team roles including:

  • Team Leader
  • Project Manager
  • Race Manager
  • Marketing, PR & Sponsorship
  • Aerodynamics Engineer
  • Composites/Body Engineer
  • Chassis Engineer
  • Powertrain Engineer
  • Electrical/Electronics Engineer
  • Software Engineer
  • Strategy Lead
  • Exterior & Interior Designer

The Belgian solar car team is posting an interesting set of interviews with their technical specialists (so far, mechanical 1, motor & logistics, team manager, monitoring & ICT, business relations & finance, public relations & events, mechanical 2, and electrical).

To win the race, the vehicle’s solar cells, motors, batteries, electronics, and body must all be cutting-edge, and the race strategists must carefully optimise the vehicle’s speed. Highlighting some of these issues, the University of New South Wales has developed the very nice online virtual World Solar Challenge simulator below. It’s open to players from around the world (just click on the image).

Visiting Vanuatu

Recently I took my own advice and visited the island nation of Vanuatu. I had a great time! Since the islands are volcanic and surrounded by coral reefs, the beach sand ranges from pure white to basaltic black, with an intermediate grey-brown in some cases, like the beach in my photo above.

Vanuatu has a range of interesting wildlife (though no native land mammals other than bats). Birds of Vanuatu include the Vanuatu kingfisher (Todiramphus farquhari, above), which I did not see. There are 120 other bird species, including visiting seabirds. Butterflies of Vanuatu (of which I saw many) include the Monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) and several subspecies of the Canopus Swallowtail (Papilio fuscus, below).

Underwater, Vanuatu provides wonderful opportunities to see marine life while diving or snorkelling. The Flickr photographs below are by Diane Brook (click images to zoom):


Venus and Jupiter in conjunction

The planets Venus and Jupiter were in conjunction last night, as the photograph above (by Neal Simpson) shows. The diagram below (by the Fourmilab) shows why: although Venus is much closer to Earth (and thus much brighter), the three planets are almost in a straight line. Venus and Jupiter should still be pretty close in the sky for the next few nights.

World Solar Challenge: The Schools

The upcoming World Solar Challenge has entries from the world’s top technology-oriented universities. However, as with previous years (and as the film Race the Sun celebrates), some high schools are also participating in this highly competitive race. By my count, there are four. At this level, even just building a car that qualifies for a starting position is a major achievement for a high school, and these students are hoping to do a lot more than that! We wish them all the very best.

Goko High School (Japan)

Goko High School entered the Cruiser class in 2013, but their nice-looking car sadly lost its rear wheels just outside of Alice Springs. This year, their solar car (25, Musoushin) is in the Challenger class, competing against their compatriots from Tokai University, as well as other universities around the world.

Ardingly College (UK)

Ardingly College is an independent co-educational boarding and day school located in Ardingly, West Sussex (photo above by Dave Spicer). Their solar car (43, Ardingly Solar Car) is entered in the Cruiser class. Students on the team include Matthew Price (Team Manager), Holly Hill (Mechanics Manager), Lennart Flür (IT Manager), Johannes Jebsen (Business Manager), and Ellie Haines (Marketing Manager). The team is on Twitter.

Houston School District (USA)

Houston School District (from the small town in Mississippi, not the large city in Texas) has competed in the World Solar Challenge before (though not in 2013). Their solar car (20, Sundancer) is entered in the Adventure class. The team is on Facebook and Twitter.

Liberty Christian School (USA)

Liberty Christian School is a private school located in Argyle, Texas. The team is on Facebook and Twitter. Their solar car (34, Solis Bellator) is also entered in the Adventure class, competing against The Petroleum Institute from the UAE and TAFE South Australia.

Our best wishes are with all four teams. And, whatever happens during the race, I’m sure the students will have had an exciting and educational experience and an excellent preparation for further education and for their future careers. Any smart employer would look favourably on a graduate with this kind of experience on their C.V.

World Solar Challenge: The Road to Darwin

(map shows altitude in metres – click to zoom; data is from

The World Solar Challenge is coming up again this October (see also my hyperlinked list of teams), with the usual solar-powered dash down the Stuart Highway from Darwin to Adelaide. But the road to Darwin is just as tough, with teams spending time raising money and constructing their vehicles. Some of the teams had a trial run at the Abu Dhabi Solar Challenge.

Stanford (16) have an illustrated blog of their manufacturing process, while the Belgian Punch Powertrain Solar Team (8) has this video of their design process:

In the (Dutch) video below, Solar Team Twente (21) discuss their new Red One car, and also their educational activities:

And, of course, there is this classic story from the 1990 race:

Weather Outlook for October

(map shows average max temperatures in °C – click to zoom; data is from

Darwin: average max 33.2°C, min 24.9°C, 9.5 hours sun, 7 days rain/month
Alice Springs: average max 30.9°C, min 14.8°C, 10 hours sun, 5 days rain/month
Adelaide: average max 21.3°C, min 11.1°C, 8.3 hours sun, 11 days rain/month
(from this table)

World Solar Challenge 2015 coming in October!

The World Solar Challenge is coming up again this October, and the team list has been released. The teams (in three classes) for 2015 are:

Cruiser Class

(4 wheels, with 1 driver + passenger(s) and overnight charging at Alice Springs)

Challenger Class

(4 wheels, max. length: 4.5 m, max. width: 1.8 m, single stage: Darwin to Adelaide)

Adventure Class

(3 wheels, max. length: 5.0 m, max. width: 1.8 m, two stages)

Weather Outlook for October

(from this table and these grids, map shows average max temperatures – click to zoom)

Darwin: average max 33.2°C, min 24.9°C, 9.5 hours sun, 7 days rain/month
Alice Springs: average max 30.9°C, min 14.8°C, 10 hours sun, 5 days rain/month
Adelaide: average max 21.3°C, min 11.1°C, 8.3 hours sun, 11 days rain/month

Ecological Niche Modelling and Frogs

Predicted suitable range (in blue) of frogs from the Leptolalax applebyi group in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos (modified from Rowley et al. 2015). The vertical colour scale shows elevation in metres. Frog images are by Jodi Rowley.

I was very excited to have the opportunity to collaborate recently with AMRI at the Australian Museum on a paper about frogs, which has just appeared in PLOS ONE: Undiagnosed Cryptic Diversity in Small, Microendemic Frogs (Leptolalax) from the Central Highlands of Vietnam (Jodi J. L. Rowley, Dao T. A. Tran, Greta J. Frankham, Anthony H. Dekker, Duong T. T. Le, Truong Q. Nguyen, Vinh Q. Dau, Huy D. Hoang). My main contribution to the work was in ecological niche modelling – see the map above.

The Leptolalax applebyi group discussed in the paper hides a number of similar-looking but distinct species of frogs, often restricted to small geographic areas (DNA and acoustic evidence can be used to distinguish them). Ecological niche modelling using climatic and terrain data produced the above map of areas predicted to be suitable for these frogs. Unfortunately, as of a 2008 satellite study, only 55% of this suitable area (in blue on the map) was covered by the broadleaf evergreen forest which these frogs need. The resultant habitat loss may therefore have already led to the extinction of frog species which we will never know about. Less than a third of the remaining area has government protection, so further habitat loss is, sadly, a strong possibility.

The example of the Leptolalax applebyi group underscores the need both to strengthen conservation efforts around the world, and to put more effort into describing the world’s species diversity, so that we know what needs protecting! Losing a species (like the passenger pigeon or the gastric-brooding frog) is tragic, but sadder still is losing species without even realising that they existed.