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Solar Decathlon Students Honored at Reception

Team Massachusetts Placed Ninth in International Contest

UMass Lowell Image
Chancellor Marty Meehan, far left, and Engineering Dean John Ting, far right, present framed photos of the 4D Home built by Team Massachusetts to, from left, Boris Serebrennikov, Oh-Hun Kwon and Mithun Kamath of Saint-Gobain.

By Edwin L. Aguirre

The Francis College of Engineering and the University Advancement Office hosted a reception on Oct. 14 in honor of Team Massachusetts for its successful participation in the U.S. Department of Energy’s biennial Solar Decathlon competition. The contest challenged college students to design, construct and operate solar-powered houses that are innovative, affordable, ultra energy-efficient and attractive.

The team — made up of engineering students from UMass Lowell and architecture students from the Massachusetts College of Art and Design — won ninth place in the Decathlon, which was held in late September in Washington, D.C. The group beat 10 other collegiate teams from the United States, Canada, Belgium and China.

Members of the 2011 UMass Lowell team included Walter Thomas, Julianne Rhoads, Milo DiPaola, John Connor, Abdelwahed Nabat, Kemmeng Peng, Tim Lee, Erik Jordan, Matthew Polese, Christopher Bradley, Apurav Jain, Raam Perumal, Anant Wadalkar and Srilakshmi Kurmana. Their faculty adviser was Prof. Robert Parkin of Mechanical Engineering.

“It was a dream project for us,” says Jain, who is pursuing a master’s degree in solar engineering and plans to set up his own solar energy company in India after graduation. “We received a lot of practical experience and knowledge on how to go about installing photovoltaic panels and designing our system to comply with the national electrical code, among other things. It helped us better understand the concepts we learned in the classroom.”

Peng, a senior undergraduate student in mechanical engineering, says the project taught him a lot of lessons on what to expect in the real world.

“It was tough balancing studies and working on the project, but I learned about the importance of time management and organization and the need to learn new skills to get the job done,” he says. “The Solar Decathlon really helped me a lot in my studies and I would love to participate again in the next competition in 2013.”

A Team Effort

A number of donors, sponsors and volunteers contributed materials and services to the project, including Epoch Homes, which fabricated the house at the company’s factory in Pembroke, N.H., as well as Nordic Engineered Wood, Saint-Gobain North America, Solectria Renewables, Sundrum Solar, Boott Hydropower and Enel Green Power North America. Louise Griffin of the Office of University Advancement also helped with the fundraising efforts.

“I’m very impressed with the students’ hard work and dedication,” says Michael Hughes, owner of M. Hughes Electrical Contractor and a Decathlon volunteer. “I just can’t get over how much work it took to build the house for the square footage, but it was a lot of fun and a great learning process for everyone, including myself.”

“I think Solectria Renewables benefitted greatly from sponsoring this team and working with UMass Lowell and MassArt,” says Michael Kelly, the company’s production engineering manager. “The students’ drive and passion made it happen and I’m extremely proud of them.”

Saint-Gobain, a global company with more than 190,000 employees in 64 countries, donated about 30 different products used in the construction of the team’s 4D Home.

“Saint-Gobain actively participates with schools, especially with regard to energy and habitat initiatives, and is interested in becoming involved in future competitions,” says Mithun Kamath, a research engineer in the company who received his master’s degree in plastics engineering from UMass Lowell in 2008.

This past spring, Saint-Gobain also donated a Battenfeld liquid silicone rubber injection molding machine to the Plastics Engineering Department for use in teaching and research.

“A brand-new injection machine like that costs $75,000 to $80,000,” says Boris Serebrennikov, a senior research engineer at Saint-Gobain who is currently a Ph.D. student in Plastics Engineering.

“We’re interested in hiring more UMass Lowell graduates, especially in the polymer processing side,” says Oh-Hun Kwon of Saint-Gobain’s R&D Center in Northboro. “We look forward to having more future employees from the University.”