Cedarville University team wins solar boat race

By Ben Delman on August 10, 2017
Cedarville University's Solar Boat racing team
The Cedarville team shows off its boat.

A team of engineering students from Cedarville University beat out teams from 11 other schools to win the 2017 Solar Splash competition. The event pits engineering teams together to see which one can build the best solar-powered boat.

The Cedarville team is led by Tim Dewhurst, a professor at the university. Dewhurst has participated in the competition since the 1990s.

“I find the whole concept of an engineering competition where you design, build and race to be a tremendous opportunity,” Dewhurst said. “There’s so much to be gained from that compared to working in the classroom.”

The competition gives students an opportunity to apply the concepts they have learned in the classroom to solve a problem, building a solar-powered boat, they have not had to grapple with in an academic setting. This experience is directly transferable to the working world, where they will be working to solve new problems based upon what they have learned.

Dewhurst believes his team’s success is due to several factors. He cited the students’ experience, hard work, and capabilities, as well as the engineering management strategy they used. The team broke up work into discrete subsystems. “For the boat to go fast enough to win, it needs to go a certain speed,” Dewhurst said. “To do that, each subsystem needs a level of performance and if one fails, the whole thing fails.”

The Solar Splash team isn’t Cedarville University’s only solar effort. The school has a 10-acre solar field. When it was installed five years ago, it was the largest solar system at any Ohio university. The system provides about 20% of the campus’ energy needs.

The Cedarville team has hosted the Solar Splash competition for the past four years, and will serve as host next year as well. In addition to the competition against other universities, the team also has begun working with local middle school students to help them build their own solar powered boat. The team would like to expand this effort to educate the students about the specifics of how solar works. Dewhurst said he is always interested in funding and sponsorships to help the event grow.