"John Lee," Yale's Student-Built Solar Car to Compete in First International Race

The John Lee, the fastest and lightest solar car ever built by Yale’s Team Lux, which runs at 65 mph under full sunlight using less power than a hairdryer, will race in its first international competition in May 2004 at the Phaethon Solar Car Race in Athens, Greece.

The team will hold a press conference at New York City’s Tavern on the Green on Friday, September 26 at 10 a.m. The solar car will be on display all day Sunday, September 28 at the EcoFest environmental fair at Lincoln Center.

The Yale undergraduates who constructed the John Lee from scratch have completed the car and are seeking donations to help with the cost of shipping it to the overseas race. Their “adopt-a-cell” program allows donors to sponsor cells that make up the outer body of the car at $20 per cell.

“The car cost about $300,000 to build and we’ve received help from some outside companies and departments at Yale such as the Sikorsky Group, the Faculty of Engineering and the physics department, but we still need about $30,000,” said Team Lux member David M. Johnson, a senior physics major at Yale.

Formed in 1996, Team Lux is a group of 15 Yale University undergraduates who design, build and race solar-powered cars. The races run along public highways and are the culmination of years of hard work. The construction of a solar car requires a large range of technical and logistical skills. Students in all majors can participate to gain a better understanding of mechanical, electrical and business projects. The students are responsible for every stage of the fundraising, design and construction process.

Johnson said a main goal of Team Lux is to increase the public’s environmental awareness and to dispel the almost universal belief that solar-powered vehicles crawl along at less than 30 mph.

“Our next generation of solar-powered vehicles have top speeds greater than 70 mph-all using less energy than needed to power a toaster,” Johnson said. “Cruising along interstate highways, we want people to realize they were just passed by a car running only on sunlight.”

“It’s a remarkable accomplishment,” said D. Allan Bromley, the Sterling Professor of the Sciences and former Dean of Yale Engineering. “Their ability not only to build and operate the car, but also to go out and get support impressed me. They were passionate about their work. Unique among all the competitors in these solar car races is that the Yale team’s work is done entirely by undergraduates. This is a demonstration of what Yale students can do on their own given the freedom to structure their programs.”

The result of a two-year project, John Lee is Team Lux’s 4th-generation solar powered vehicle. Its design and construction reflects the team’s seven years of experience building ultra-efficient automobiles. The three-wheeled John Lee has a titanium frame and at 560 lbs., including driver and ballast, is an extremely lightweight vehicle. It boasts an innovative low profile design and its suspension design and components are borrowed from recent advances in high performance mountain bikes. The body is made of carbon fiber and honeycomb, which is light, yet very strong.

“It’s a very ambitious design,” said Johnson. “We did an aerodynamic analysis and found that if you only have one wheel in the front, which houses the motor, you don’t disturb the air as much. It also uses one of the most powerful solar cells ever used in a solar car race.”

Team Lux’s previous vehicles, the Lux Aeterna, Lux Perpetua and Lux Millennia have been successes. Lux Aeterna finished in the top ten and was the first-ranked novice car in the ten-day Sunrayce in 1997. Lux Perpetua placed fifteenth out of the 50 teams that entered the 1,300-mile Sunrayce in 1999. The Lux Millennia served as a prototype for the John Lee.

More information on the John Lee and how to become a Team Lux sponsor can be found on their Web site: http://solar.eng.yale.edu.

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Media Contact

Karen N. Peart: karen.peart@yale.edu, 203-432-1326