Alex Arambula is captain of the Solar Electric Vehicle Team, which recently competed in the World Solar Challenge in Australia. The 12-member team finished second in the Silicon category and placed fifth overall among 30 competitors.

In just five days, the team raced their vehicle, Eleanor, 3021 kilometers from Darwin in the north to Adelaide in the south. The vehicle was powered by six square meters of silicon solar cells that put out just 1200 watts — less than most hair dryers. “The vehicle could run only on the power of the sun, so we were lucky it was good weather,” says Arambula, adding that the team has built and raced nine solar vehicles since 1984, but this year was among their best finishes.

“Our team’s mission is not only to push innovation and technological progress, but also to spread the word about our work to the community. It’s one thing for 12 students to benefit from the experience, but we felt it should be shared with the world,” says Arambula, adding that last summer the team took the car on a nationwide tour to educate the public about green energy. First, they drove the vehicle in Boston’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade, which was attended by 500,000, and noticed soon after that hundreds had visited their website. Then, the team visited shopping malls, science museums, children’s museums, and technology museums across the country, where elementary, middle, and high school students watched amazed. Arambula says he loved showing off the vehicle, answering questions, and inspiring the public to learn more about how to contribute to a greener world.

“Far too often, young people want only to become a rock star or play in the NBA. We want to change that. If we can get young people thinking about engineering and green energy, we’ll get them thinking about what they, too, can do to create a better world.”

Arambula says he believes his lifework is to contribute to a global energy solution.

“I love working on solar power, but I don’t think it’s the exclusive answer to the global energy problem. My dream is to find an alternative solution to our use of fossil fuels.

“Being on this team has taught me teamwork. I realize no one person will save the planet, but I really want to be part of a team that finds an energy solution for the world.”