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Clarkson University Solar Car Helios Part Of Automotive History

[A JPEG photograph of Thacher and Helios at the museum for newspaper use is available at]

A car that heralds the future of transportation will be on display in a museum exhibit honoring America’s automotive past.

Helios, Clarkson University’s 1995 solar-powered race vehicle, is currently on loan to the Northeast Classic Car Museum in Norwich, N.Y., to be featured in an interactive automotive history and technology exhibit called “From Sprockets to Rockets.” classic

“Sprockets” is designed for students and car lovers of all ages and joins an impressive 100-car exhibit on display. Visitors will also see original antique clothing fashions displayed alongside the cars of the day. The exhibit also includes historic World War II bomber and fighter aircraft engines.

The exhibit not only chronicles the history of transportation –four wheeled and otherwise—in America this century, but also takes a look at how those cars were fueled over the years, and how future cars like Helios may be powered in the new millennium.  Helios will have a place in the exhibit alongside Duesenbergs, Packards, and Auburns, cars of American prestige whose nameplates are familiar to those living in the first half of this century.

Eric F. Thacher, professor of mechanical & aeronautical engineering and an adviser to the Solar Knights, and team member Humberto J. Centeno recently transferred Helios to the museum and turned it over to the care of Michael Tobey, the museum’s executive director.  Tobey said the museum will display Helios right next to a national show-winning antique electric vehicle.

“Helios adds a tremendous dimension to the exhibit,” Tobey said.  “This exhibit is about the past and the future, and Helios provided a key element of the future.”

“Helios expresses the ideals, inspiration, intelligence, skill, and professionalism of the learning community that built it,” said Thacher.  “It is quite pleasing to see the expression of those characteristics continue to be recognized.”

Thacher said he was asked to contribute to the exhibit by Tobey, who said he got the idea to request Helios from a member of the museum board of trustees who saw a recent TV program on solar racing.

Built over a two year span between 1993-95, Helios was the Solar Knights’ entry into Sunrayce ’95, an 1,100-mile intercollegiate solar car race from Indianapolis, Indiana, to Golden, Colorado. Clarkson placed 18th overall, which was their best finish at the time.  Since 1995, Helios has had a busy second life as a promotional and educational tool.  It has appeared at elementary and secondary schools all over New York state.  It has also appeared at the EcoFest in New York City and on NBC’s Today show.

This year, Helios was designated the media car for Sunrayce ’99, appearing at stops along the 1,400-mile race route from Washington, D.C., to Orlando, Fla., and on various local newscasts and morning programs.  In every town, young and old alike got an up-close and personal look at a solar car, many of them for the first time.

In a way, Thacher’s post-race plans for the car have come to fruition.

“After the race I proposed it as a training car for the team.  But I didn't foresee its longevity.  It has become a training car, but for the public,” he said. “And the people who have seen Helios over the years have usually been pleased, even grateful for it in some cases. They saw their own ideal of how cars should be-- but are not-- realized, however imperfectly.  But it is this uncovering in others of the ideal that I myself hold that bolsters my hope. This hope is that this ideal is widely-enough held to be the engine fueling real, lasting change in the way humans live-- and in this particular case, transport themselves.”

Helios will be on display at the Northeast Classic Car Museum in Norwich, N.Y., from now through June of 2000. 

The Solar Knights are part of Clarkson University's SPEED (Student Projects for Engineering Experience and Design) program, which promotes project-based learning opportunities by providing engineering design opportunities for Clarkson students through 16 project activities, including the Environmental Design, Construction Management, FIRST Robotics, Formula SAE and Mini Baja projects. SPEED is supported by grants from General Electric and General Motors.

PHOTO CAPTION: Northeast Classic Car Museum Director Michael Tobey (left) and Clarkson University Solar Knights Adviser Eric F. Thacher stand between the past and the future of automobiles-- a 1930 Duesenberg (far left) and the 1995 Clarkson solar vehicle Helios, which is on loan to the museum until next June. (Photo by Kierre L. Daniels, Clarkson University News Services.)

[News directors and editors: For more information, contact Annie Harrison, Director of Media Relations, at 315-268-6764 or]

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