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Appalachian’s First Solar Vehicle — Apperion — Featured in 2019 Triangle SciTech Expo

Lance Shepherd, a fourth grade student at Audrey W. Garrett Elementary School in Mebane, studies the interior of Apperion as he sits in the vehicle’s driver’s seat. The goals of the 2019 Triangle SciTech Expo, in which Apperion is featured, are to expose expo participants to the state’s newest technologies and scientific advances, and inspire an interest in STEM fields within young students such as Shepherd, as well as teenagers and adults. Photo by Chase Reynolds

By Jessica Stump

Fourth grade student Lance Shepherd, a young admirer of science and technology who attends Audrey W. Garrett Elementary School in Mebane, had a chance encounter with Apperion — the premier solar car of Appalachian State University’s Team Sunergy — when the car was installed Monday in the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences.

Apperion is one of more than 50 exhibits to be featured in the museum’s 2019 Triangle SciTech Expo Saturday. The expo showcases the state’s advancements in various technologies and scientific disciplines, and assembles scientists and technical professionals from both industry and universities to engage visitors of all ages in the world of STEM.

The solar vehicle will remain on display on the first floor of the museum’s Nature Research Center for approximately one year.

Once Apperion was installed, Team Sunergy member Ethan Culberson, a junior sustainable technology major from Belews Creek, lifted an excited Shepherd into the car’s driver’s seat.

Shepherd’s reaction? “This is so cool!”

Team Sunergy members Meredith Cuilla, far right in foreground, and Ethan Culberson help Lance Shepherd, a fourth grade student at Audrey W. Garrett Elementary School in Mebane, center, into the driver’s seat of Apperion. Upon seeing the car up close, Shepherd exclaimed, “This is so cool!” Photo by Chase Reynolds

Approximately 4,000–6,000 people, including students such as Shepherd, are expected to visit the expo. Admission to the event, as well as the museum’s general collection, is free.

“I think it’s important to have her (Apperion) here because she’s a testament to new technologies and … a teaching tool. She’ll be out here showing people that this is possible, and that we are moving away from fossil fuels to different forms of energy,” said Meredith Cuilla, a senior marketing major from Clayton and Team Sunergy member who accompanied the car to the museum.

Apperion gained national attention with top-three finishes in the 2016 and 2017 Formula Sun Grand Prix, an international collegiate endurance competition that sets the standards for and tests the limits of solar vehicle technology. The car placed sixth in the 2016 American Solar Challenge, an international solar vehicle distance road race held biennially by the Innovators Educational Foundation.

Team Sunergy members Ethan Culberson, a junior sustainable technology major from Belews Creek, far left, Meredith Cuilla, a senior marketing major from Clayton, center, and Wyatt Bailey, a junior sustainable technology major from Burlington, pose with Appalachian solar vehicle Apperion at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences. Culberson is a member of Team Sunergy’s Mechanical and Electrical Battery teams; Cuilla is a member of the team’s Business Team; and Bailey serves as the team’s engineering director. Photo by Chase Reynolds

Hugo Romero-Sánchez, the museum’s education events specialist, said the museum’s goal for the expo is to not only inspire a “love of the sciences” but expose visiting students to different paths they can pursue in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields.

The expo will include hands-on activities, crafts and games, as well as presentations for people of all ages — “from the small tadpoles to the older turtles,” Romero-Sánchez joked.

Through the expo, visitors can learn about the art and science of fermentation; the connection between horseshoe crabs and nanoscience; how drones work and how they are being used in science; the varied technologies used to study forming stars and to look inside meteorites.

Team Sunergy members Ethan Culberson, far left, Meredith Cuilla, center, and Wyatt Bailey help move Apperion from the museum’s freight elevator to where it is installed currently in the museum’s Nature Research Center. Photo by Chase Reynolds

“For the general population, a scientist is someone who you can’t normally reach. Here, what we love to do is to establish those links, those connections between the general public and scientists,” Romero-Sánchez said.

He added, “We want to connect the public with the creators (scientists and other exhibitors at the expo). Of course, you can come to the museum and see the car, read about the car, and say, ‘This car’s amazing,’ but when are you going to have the chance to talk to the person who designed, who worked on it?”

Culberson and Cuilla, along with Wyatt Bailey, Team Sunergy’s engineering director and a junior sustainable technology major from Burlington, and Halle Küttel, a senior sustainable technology major from Huntersville and lead mechanical engineer for Team Sunergy, will attend the expo to present on Apperion and answer visitors’ questions.

Appalachian Team Sunergy members and museum staff guide Apperion into the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences’ Nature Research Center, where the car will be on display on the center’s first floor during the 2019 Triangle SciTech Expo. Photo by Chase Reynolds

The Triangle SciTech Expo, which is sponsored by the Biogen Foundation, is part of the ninth annual NC Science Festival, with events taking place statewide throughout the month of April.

Visit naturalsciences.org to learn more about the expo and follow #TriSciTech on Twitter and/or Instagram.