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Solar Engineers and Architects Compete in D.C. (Updated)

Engineers and architects, like many professionals, face a continuing
tough job market
but the student engineers and architects taking part in this year’s
Solar Decathlon in Washington, DC, display an enthusiasm for their work
and technology that belies their current job prospects. Science
Careers talked on Monday with a few of the competitors, who not only
look forward to a career in working with alternative energy, but also
want to change the way their professions are practiced.

competition, held by the U.S. Department of Energy every 2-3 years,
gives teams of student engineers and architects worldwide a chance to
show off their skills in designing, building, and operating an
attractive and energy-efficient home powered by the sun. This year’s
Solar Decathlon — it’s called a
decathlon because judges rate the teams on 10 criteria — brought
together 20 teams from the U.S., Canada, and Europe. The competition provides the participants with a venue for demonstrating their
talents while highlighting the practicality of green construction
and sustainable design.

TomRauch_PennState_150.jpgTom Rauch, a sophomore at
Pennsylvania State University in University Park majoring in energy
studies in the school’s engineering and business departments, is on the Penn State team. Rauch hopes the Solar Decathlon and his studies lead to a
career in industry where he can help “change the way we’re doing
manufacturing.” A Pittsburgh native, Rauch comes from a family of coal
and steel workers. He has already done an internship in the coal
industry where he was able to see first-hand its production and
engineering processes.

Helen Evans Warren, a masters degree
candidate in environmental design from University of Calgary in
Alberta, Canada, is a member of Team Alberta, which is made up of participants from
several institutions in that province. Warren also serves on the
interior design faculty at Mount Royal University in Calgary. She plans
to use her research and teaching roles to help generate alternative
ways of approaching design and to “generate projects that make a
difference.” Alberta, Warren notes, now relies heavily on oil and gas
but the competition can show how alternative energies can make a
positive impact on the environment.

JoeRice_UWMilw_150.jpgJoe Rice, who is getting a
masters degree in architecture at University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee, is one of 30 members of that institution’s team in the competition. In his career, Rice
wants to address “the unique challenge” of building sustainability in
the design process, from the studio through the construction documents.
While the competition focuses on homes, Rice says, the same
sustainable practices can be applied to other structures such as
offices and theaters.

The Solar Decathlon homes are on
13-18 October 2009 (except for 14 October) on the National Mall in Washington, DC. Winners of
the competition will be awarded on 16 October.

Update, 14 October 2009: Jon Taplin, a professor at the Annenberg School of Communication at University of Southern California, makes the case for a “Green WPA”, modeled after the New Deal’s Works Progress Administration in the 1930s, to save a potential lost generation of young workers caught in the current recession.

Photos: A. Kotok