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