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Stanford Solar Car team lead

’18, coterm

Computer Science

May 2017
My original plan at Stanford was to go into sustainable energy policy, but I surprised myself by how much I was drawn to engineering and specifically computer science. I was originally attracted to the Stanford Solar Car team because of the word solar – I didn’t know much about the group outside of that.

I love that I’ve been able to apply my computer science knowledge to building something tangible, a car in this case. And not just any car, a car that’s pushing thinking in the realm of sustainable energy. Using my CS knowledge, I’m thinking about questions like how do you make solar panels lightweight? How do you make batteries safe? How do you build a car that’s super energy efficient? I’m not as interested in building a web app, but as a part of the Solar Car team, I’ve been exposed to the world of possibility beyond web or app design with a CS background. Eventually I could see myself following some of my initial interests back into the world of policy. And I think my technical education will serve me well if I do make that decision.

The first project I worked on for the Solar Car team was writing the embedded code to make the motors use less energy, basically telling the car’s motors to turn off if the car was on but not driving. Today it would take me 10 minutes to write that code, but when I originally took this on, it took me about a month! The experience motivated me to create a better educational experience for new members. It’s important to me that people don’t feel intimidated about joining just because they don’t yet have expertise on how to build a solar car. None of us do when we start! For the new car we’re unveiling this summer, the mechanical engineering student designing the suspension had never done this work before, the electrical engineering student designing the battery management had never done that work before. We don’t expect anyone to come in with this kind of expertise, but we do expect them to work to build expertise as both of these students did. We encourage newer members to ask questions of the experienced upperclassmen, be resourceful, and tap into our rich alumni network for help. Anyone can contribute, as long as they’re willing to put forth the effort to learn.

Amanda Law