SUU Blog | T-Bird Nation

Solar Homes: Students Engineering the Future

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Heating up an introductory engineering class is Southern Utah University’s Dr. John Murray and his 23 students, who successfully created seven mini-homes heating each with solar energy this past semester.

Murray, who is an associate professor of engineering, provided his class with the opportunity to build solar homes to test whether or not the homes could maintain a warm internal temperature in the harsh winter conditions. With temperatures dropping below freezing, the engineering students successfully kept their mini-homes warm.

“The homes were heated by the incoming sun passing through a south-facing window during the day,” Murray explained. “Incoming solar energy is stored in the homes using cans of water. At night, with the home tops closed, the cans re-radiate the stored energy, keeping the interiors warm.”

After measuring data over a three-day period during the first week of December, the class determined the project as a success as the internal temperatures had much less variation than did the external variation.

While many of the students were not engineering majors and are in their freshman year at SUU, each student participated equally in all aspects of design and construction, leaving Murray impressed with their ability to tackle difficult engineering problems and finding solutions.

“Student willingness to do battle with heat transfer equations during their first year at SUU is, I believe, laudable,” he said with pride.

Nayla Rhein, a freshman biology major, participated in all facets of the project and was impressed with Murray’s ability to create an experience where she was challenged while learning new aspects about engineering.

“This project helped me realize you don’t need advanced engineering skills to be able to create and design your ideas,” Rhein said. “I think what made this project special was the passion of Dr. Murray and the way he got us involved. He didn’t tell us what to do. He pushed us to be creative and find our own answers.” 

Alex Massine, sophomore mathematical science major, said he gained a lot of knowledge about engineering through the project specifically about how heat comes into a home and how heat is lost.

“The goal was to balance the gains and losses to maintain a consistent temperature in our solar homes,” Massine explained. “We were able to successfully accomplish this goal and I enjoyed gaining engineering skills in the process.”