The Catholic University of America

April 22, 2010

CUA Students Shine in Solar-Design Competition

  The team of (from left) Joseph Cochrane, Michael Doster, Lindsey Dickes, Monica Perez, Cory Estep and John Lang created the winning solar design.

Six graduate students in architecture, sustainable design and engineering were named winners today — the 40th anniversary of Earth Day — in Catholic University’s first solar-design competition.

The student team designed a functional picnic table capable of supplying and storing power generated by solar-energy panels, using as their inspiration the contemporary design of the Edward J. Pryzbyla University Center.

Chosen by a panel of CUA’s faculty and staff and executives from Standard Solar Inc. and Washington Gas Energy Services (WGES), the team will be awarded $3,000. An actual picnic table will be produced from their design and placed in front of the Pryzbyla Center.

“I was very impressed by the potential of the design,” said Marc DeOcampo, campus planner in CUA’s Office of Facilities Planning & Construction. “It could be used for the picnic table they designed. But more than that, it could also retrofit existing picnic tables. Other than a picnic canopy, it could be used for a train canopy, a bus canopy or other sun-shading device.”

The winning team was made up of a graduate student in mechanical engineering, Joseph Cochrane of Coopersburg, Pa., and five students in the Master of Architecture and Master of Science in Sustainable Design programs, Lindsey Dickes of Baltimore; Michael Doster of Wayne, N.J.; Cory Estep of Bradenton, Fla.; John Lang of Ellicott City, Md.; and Monica Perez of McLean, Va.

Their design incorporated five solar panels that they predicted would generate enough energy to power two laptops and two iPods at any given time. Real-time data on energy generated and consumed would be digitally displayed for users. “I thought it was very innovative, and I loved the educational component,” DeOcampo said.

Designs created by the winning team, “Spectrum,” and other entries, “Albedo,” “Brighter Future” and “Solar Train” were displayed during the week in the third-floor atrium of the Pryzbyla Center as part of the competition sponsored by the School of Architecture and Planning, the School of Engineering, and the Office of Facilities Maintenance and Operations. The $3,000 award is being provided by the schools of architecture and planning and engineering and WGES.

“Just fantastic work,” Harry Warren, president of WGES, announced after hearing presentations from the teams.

When members of the winning team were asked what they learned, Doster replied, “Collaboration of architecture and engineering.”

“Sometimes in the real business and office environment,” Perez added, “design tends to come first and then the engineering is fitted to that idea or design. We learned from day one that it’s necessary to actually start with the engineering first and design according to that to make sure that we met the expectations of … what students were going to need.”

Dickes said she learned “how engineering is fun. I never thought I’d be excited about engineering until Joe (Cochrane) came in and turned on the battery monitor and said, ‘Look at how many watts are in this thing.’ ”

Warren praised the collaboration. “I can’t imagine better real-world professional training.”

“Overall, the students did an excellent job of doing all the analysis,” DeOcampo said. “That’s a lot of work, and I’m glad to see that each of the student groups had students from multiple disciplines — from engineering, from architecture and even from biomedical and mathematics.”

In fall 2009, CUA added solar panels to the rooftops of four buildings, making it one of Washington, D.C.’s largest solar-energy producers. CUA partnered with WGES and Standard Solar in the creation of the solar-energy system.