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Student-designed solar bus sign graces campus

Students in New Mexico State University's Engineering Technology and Surveying Engineering (ETSE) Department have designed and built a solar bus sign that will be used by the Aggie Transit to display bus schedules and other messages.

MTEC staff engineer Chris Wise, left, and mechanical engineering technology student Luis Onsurez work to install a solar-powered bus marquee on Frenger Mall near the food court. (photo by Darren Phillips)

The bus sign is a solar-powered-lighted display box and programmable LED message board that is mounted on a pole. The system is equipped with a solar panel that provides power during the day and charges a battery that will run the system at night and on cloudy days. The LED message board can be programmed to display up to 250 messages at specified times of the day. The system is designed and built by students in the ETSE department as part of the renewable energy technology minor.

"The ETSE department is very 'hands-on' and I wanted to provide an opportunity to demonstrate a bridge between the theory/research of energy technologies and the application of these technologies," said Thomas Jenkins, professor of engineering technology and project leader and supervisor of the project.

The sign was installed near the bus stop at the Frenger Food Court in early June. The solar bus sign and the Frenger site were approved for installation by the Campus Planning Committee. The sign is a prototype that will be evaluated for acceptability, functionality and esthetics, with future campus installations possible.

"It brings great satisfaction to know that you are working on a project that everyone will get to see," said Jonathan Trejo, an ETSE student who worked on the project. "It is also great to know that you are working with technologies that have the potential of being the next big thing." Trejo hopes this project will allow students to see that NMSU is dedicated to educating students about clean, renewable energy.

"The students took what they learned in the classroom and designed a highly visible, applied implementation of this technology that would fit into the NMSU 'Year of Sustainability' and NMSU's support of the American College & University Presidents Climate Commitment," said Jenkins. "We selected this project because it would be a way to let people on campus know about renewable technologies and the ways they can be used."

Jenkins and his students are also using the project as a prototype for building solar-powered street signs or area lighting that the student chapter of Engineers without Borders might be able to use in Mexico, where they have already built a bridge and are planning future projects.

ETSE Staff Engineer Chris Wise worked with Jenkins in supervising and leading the project. Students who participated in the project include Jonathan Trejo, John Morrell, Nikki Mahon, Jharrod LaFon, and Matt Steele. The majority of the funding for this project was from a NASA Undergraduate Education Enhancement Program grant that is administrated through the New Mexico Space Grant Consortium at NMSU.