Innovative solar-powered house on exhibit in Phoenix

April 9, 2014

ASU students who helped to design and build the structure hope it sparks further efforts to promote sustainable living

Arizona State University and University of New Mexico students joined forces to form one of 19 teams of college students from throughout the world selected to compete in the 2013 Solar Decathlon. ASU Solar Decathlon House Download Full Image

The competition sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy challenged teams to design and build innovative, affordable, sturdily crafted and comfortable solar-powered houses that produce as much energy as they consume and incorporate other sustainable-living features.

Twenty-three current and former ASU students – from The Design School in the ASU Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts, the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering and the School of Sustainability – were part of the ASUNM team. Three ASU faculty members were among the team’s faculty mentors.

The team produced a structure named SHADE (Solar Homes Adapting for Desert Equilibrium) using building materials and energy systems that are particularly effective and sustainable in a Southwestern desert environment.

SHADE won fifth place in the architecture category and sixth in the engineering category of the Solar Decathlon competition, which concluded with a more than weeklong public exhibit that attracted thousands of people to the Orange County Great Park in Irvine, Calif., in October 2013.

Focal point of public space

Michael Underhill, interim dean for the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts, said the team produced “a sophisticated design that does not shy from the complexity of the problems of efficiency and habitability. I am very proud of the students and faculty who undertook the long and difficult task of designing and constructing an energy-efficient house for the desert.”

After the event in California, the house was transported to New Mexico, where it has since been on display at the Mesa del Sol community in Albuquerque. But it has recently been returned to Arizona, where it will be on public exhibit for the foreseeable future at the PHX Renews site at Central Avenue and Indian School Road in Phoenix. PHX Renews is an initiative by the city and the Keep Phoenix Beautiful organization to spotlight and demonstrate sustainable living practices in the urban desert Southwest.

The house was one of the focal points of activity during the Clinton Global Initiative University conference hosted by ASU March 21-23. The event led by Chelsea Clinton, vice chair of the Clinton Foundation, and former President Bill Clinton brought about 1,200 students and others from around the world to focus on action plans for progress on global social issues.

Many of the students gathered at the PHX Renews site on the final day of the conference to participate in the Clinton Foundation’s Day of Action. There, they took part in a community service project in support of the PHX Renews effort to promote sustainable land use on public spaces. The SHADE structure was used as a staging point for the Day of Action project.

Hoping to engage community

Beyond a role in the Clinton Foundation event, the SHADE team wants its house to have a significant long-term impact.

“With the house coming back to Phoenix, I hope that many more ASU students and faculty will get involved in the project,” said architect Phil Horton, a faculty associate in The Design School, and one the team’s mentors.

“Even though we completed the project as a relatively small team, the house is the property of the university, and we want everyone to feel some sense of ownership and engagement with the work,” Horton added.

Horton noted that several team members who have worked on the SHADE project from the start were back on the job at the PHX Renews site, reconstructing the house before the weekend of the Clinton Global Initiative University conference.

Among them was Jared Malone, a fifth-year graduate student in architecture. Malone said that after years of hard work on the project it was easy to forget “how unique this has been for my education. But now that we have the opportunity to show a new group of students how to assemble the house, and see their excitement and eagerness to learn, it’s a great reminder of why I signed up for the Solar Decathlon.”

Kevin Christensen, who graduated from The Design School last year with a master’s degree in architecture and now works at Irwin G. Pasternack, AIA + Associates, an architectural firm in Phoenix, returned to the project for a few days “to button things up.”

“This really has been my life for the past two years,” said Christensen, who was primarily involved with the architectural and structural design of the house, and with its construction.

Challenging experiences

Team mentors Matt Fraser and Kristen Parrish, faculty members in Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, said the team’s hard work and skill were reflected in its fifth-place and sixth-place rankings against experienced and formidable Solar Decathlon competitors.

Students say the lessons they learned from the Solar Decathlon experiences were worth the arduous effort.

Dealing with project organization, logistics, finances and business operations was a daunting challenge, said Gian Gonzalez, a construction management student who received the Jason McElroy Memorial Scholarship. But the reward came in “getting to see the entire design-and-build process take shape,” enabling the group of architecture, design, construction and engineering students to see things from the each others’ perspectives and learn to collaborate effectively.

Gonzalez said students learned valuable lessons about the necessity of coordinating communications, time management, meeting project deadlines and budgeting resources. “It made me step out of my comfort zone and learn more about the whole construction and design process,” said civil engineering student Vid Micevic.

John Cribbs, a recent architecture graduate of The Design School and current doctoral student in ASU’s Del E. Webb School of Construction Management, served as the team’s architectural manager and was also part of the construction group. He said that although the project also placed him “extremely far outside of my comfort zone ... It challenged me every day. As a team, we were able to execute a design from vision to reality. It was, and will remain, one of the most satisfying experiences for me.”

Collaborative achievement

The competition “gave me a taste of what the industry is really like. Now I have a basis for knowing how I can improve and what things I need to become more familiar with,” said Daisy Herrera, a construction management student.

“The public absolutely loved our house and told us they could see themselves living in it. People even made offers to purchase the house,” Herrera said.

“I want everyone to know we gave it our best effort, and even though we didn’t place high in the competition, we still finished with a truly spectacular innovative design,” she said. “The whole point of this competition was to design and build a home that will help promote the integration of solar power into the residential development industry. I feel like we accomplished our goal.”

Ali Abbaszadegan, who is earning concurrent graduate degrees in architecture and landscape architecture, has been working on the SHADE project from the beginning. He said the house “is a symbol of what architecture can accomplish when you work collaboratively and aim toward solving social and economic issues through sustainable strategies.”

The public’s comments about the team’s SHADE structure during the Solar Decathlon event in California were overwhelmingly positive, said team mentors Fraser and Parrish. “Many people who toured the house said they would love to live in a home like this. They were asking if more SHADE homes were going to be produced,” Parrish said.

ASU Solar Decathlon team members are hoping the exhibition of the house near downtown Phoenix leads in that direction.

For more information about the SHADE project, visit the ASUNM team website at

The PHX Renews site is open to the public daily from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. For more information, visit the website

Joe Kullman

Science writer, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering


ASU summer camps offer young students engineering, technology experiences

April 9, 2014

Students in grades 6-12 can learn to build robots, make iPhone apps and design thermally efficient houses through more than a dozen summer camps offered by the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering. Information on the camps, costs and applications is available at Registration is now open.

The summer programs give students an understanding of the way science, engineering and technology shape our everyday lives, said Tirupalavanam Ganesh, an associate research professor and the assistant dean of engineering education in the Fulton Schools. The experience of learning outside of a traditional school setting often sparks interests that lead to deeper engagement later in life. k-12 students with a robot Download Full Image

“You may wonder, ‘Will my child learn anything by engaging in a summer program?’” Ganesh said. “The answer is a resounding yes. Structured, out-of-school, learning experiences like these can stimulate specific interests and expand the sense for what type of work in which the student might want to engage in the future.”

Students often are unaware of the many ways that engineering and technology make our everyday lives better. The summer offerings are designed to expand that knowledge and foster computational thinking, engineering design, modeling, systems thinking, collaboration, communication, creativity and other practices in engineering and technology.

“The Fulton Schools, through these summer programs, are helping prepare the next generation of engineers, technologists and scientists; citizens engaged in solving the grand challenges of our times, including clean water, improved health care, global energy needs, secure data and information privacy.”

Summer programs also inspire independent learning, Ganesh said.

“Students get excited in these programs, where learning is fun and different than ‘school,’” Ganesh said. “They develop a deeper understanding of the subject matter by generating their own explanations, testing ideas and building models to explore how something works.”

Camps will be held on both the Tempe and Polytechnic campuses, and include three residential camps for which students spend a week or more living on campus. Residential camps on the Tempe campus include the Summer Engineering Experience, which introduces students to the engineering profession and allows them to work with faculty and graduate students on research projects, and the Summer Transportation Institute, which focuses on transportation systems throughout Arizona and takes students on tours to transportation facilities not open to the public. On the Polytechnic campus, students can participate in the Ultimate Technology Boot Camp, which explores games, robotics, apps and animation.

There are two camps specifically designed to encourage girls to participate, including one session of the App Camp, which teaches students to develop apps for smartphones, and a session of the Engineering Adventure: Renewable Energy, which explores solar, water and wind energy.

The High School Engineering Research Program is offered on both campuses, and allows students to work with ASU faculty and graduate students on engineering projects that benefit society.


High School Engineering Research Program (for students entering grades 10-12) – Students will work on projects that benefit society and learn about the disciplines of engineering. Students will meet and work with ASU faculty and graduate students in a laboratory or research center setting. They will learn about lab safety and etiquette, engineering opportunities and will present their research project at the end of the program. Two sessions, one four weeks and one eight weeks – June 2-27 and June 2-July 25 – are available at the Tempe and Polytechnic campuses.

Tempe campus

App Camp (for students entering grades 9-12) – App Camp teaches the basics of iPhone app development. Participants learn the skills needed to create and develop smartphone apps. The camp will cover Apple XCode, Objective-C, Javascript, HTML5, user-interface design principles, mobile application design and development considerations, iPhone app construction, advanced debugging techniques, Web application development for portability and more. There are two sessions, one designed to encourage girls, June 16-27, and one June 30-July 11 (excluding Saturday, Sunday and July 4).

Engineering Adventure Programs (for students entering grades 6-8) – The Engineering Adventure programs explore the ways engineers solve problems to make us healthier, safer and more comfortable. The four concentrations are Renewable Energy, Mechanical Animations and Automata, Mitigate the Urban Heat Island and To the Moon, Mars and Beyond!

Renewable Energy (for students entering grade 6) – Renewable Energy will explore the role of renewable sources for energy production, make a model of solar, water and wind energy production, measure the electricity output from energy production models, harness renewable energy by designing a solar-powered car and windmill, and light up Sparkyville by generating their own electricity. There are two sessions: one June 2-6, and one geared for girls, June 16-20.

Mechanical Animations and Automata (for students entering grade 7) – Mechanical Animations and Automata will explore the role of force and motion in designing mechanical animations. Students will use pegboard strips and boards joined by pivots and incorporate art to make their own mechanical animations and automata. June 9-13.

Mitigate the Urban Heat Island (for students entering grade 8) – Mitigate the Urban Heat Island will investigate the causes and consequences of the urban heat island on plants and animals through a variety of field studies and activities. Participants will design a physical model of a thermally efficient house. The program is offered in collaboration with the Global Institute of Sustainability, June 23-27.

To the Moon, Mars and Beyond! (for students entering grades 6-8) – Participants in To the Moon, Mars and Beyond! will join scientists and engineers in the ASU School of Earth and Space Exploration to explore missions, spacecraft and instruments used to find the largest canyons, deepest craters and the highest volcanoes in our Solar System, then travel beyond to explore stars, exoplanets and galaxies. Students will learn about current NASA missions by visiting science operations centers on ASU’s Tempe campus, and will design and build a spacecraft. June 2-13 (excluding Saturday and Sunday).

Game Camp (for students entering middle school and high school) – Game Camp provides an intensive experience in video game creation, visualization and production. Students will create concepts and prototypes for games using the latest software, hardware and development tools. Session for students entering high school, June 2-13 (excluding Saturday and Sunday); for students entering middle school, June 16-27 (excluding Saturday and Sunday).

RobotCamp (for students entering middle school and high school) – There are two sessions of Robotics Camp, 7up and 9up, for students who plan to pursue a science and engineering career. Participants will use component-based robot construction, robotics programming, Web programming and Alice game programming to learn the latest engineering design concepts and computing technologies. They will build robots to enter a robotics challenge and demonstration at the end of camp.

7up RobotCamp (for students entering grades 7-8) – Students in the 7up RobotCamp will learn programming using Alice programming environment with 3-D animation, movie and game development. They will design and construct robots, learn NXT-G robotics programming and participate in the robotics challenge at the level of difficulty similar to the FIRST Lego League Robotics Competition. June 2-13 (excluding Saturday and Sunday).

9Up RobotCamp (for students entering grade 9) – Students in the 9up RobotCamp will learn Microsoft Robotics Studio, robot construction, VPL programming, C+ programming, web programming in Service-Oriented Computing, Phone app programming and participate in a robotics challenge. June 16-27 (excluding Saturday and Sunday).

STEMagic (for students entering grades 10-11) – Participants in STEMagic will be introduced to the science and technologies behind magic, and will build creative technologies for performing magic acts. Designs will be presented at a showcase on the last day of camp. July 31- Aug. 2.

Summer Engineering Experience: SEE@ASU (for students entering grade 12, application required) – The Summer Engineering Experience is an exciting introduction to the engineering profession and the faculty, students and innovative programs at the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering. Students visit research labs and learn about undergraduate research opportunities at the university and in industry. Participants test their creative problem-solving skills with fun, hands-on team projects. It’s a great way to discover how engineers really work and how they take on the greatest challenges facing our society and make a difference. Three weeklong sessions: July 6-13, 13-20 and 20-27.

Summer Transportation Institute (for students entering grades 10-12, application required) – Participants in the Summer Transportation Institute stay on campus for one week and participate in activities and field trips focused on transportation systems around the state of Arizona. They tour traffic systems not normally accessible to the public, meet with professional engineers, work on lab activities and participate in evening activities on campus. The program is funded by the National Summer Transportation Institute and is free to participants. Three sessions: July 6-11, 13-18 and 20-25.

Polytechnic campus

Making and Tinkering (for students entering grades 6-12) – Students in Making and Tinkering can create, tinker and imagine new ideas in these unique weeklong summer programs. Students learn to use technology, including rapid prototyping equipment, to make their ideas real. Hands-on learning inside a fully equipped lab offers students the chance to learn new making and building skills. Six sessions: June 2-6, 9-13, 16-20, 23-27; July 7-11, 14-18.

STEAM Machines Invention Camp (for students entering grade 8) – Participants in STEAM Machines Invention Camp learn principles of science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics (STEAM) through building chain-reaction machines. June 22-27.

STEAM Machines + Arts Camps (for students entering grades 7-12) – STEAM Machines + Arts Camps is a collaboration with the Mesa Arts Center Studios Program. Participants brainstorm ideas, design and build a creative invention using a chain-reaction machine and dance. Participants will learn and integrate science, technology, engineering, arts and math concepts together in their machines, and have fun working in teams. Two sessions are planned, one for dance and one for drama. Both end with a performance/demonstration. Dance, July 7-11; Drama, July 14-18.

S.T.E.M. 101 (for students entering grade 9) – S.T.E.M. 101 students must help Sparky, who is marooned on an island. They will make a boat using only upcycled products, and make it float and move across a body of water without assistance. June 2.

S.T.E.M. 201 (for students entering grade 10) – S.T.E.M. 201 students beat the heat with math, creativity, brute strength and water balloons, using a trebuchet to launch them across a field. June 9.

S.T.E.M. 301 (for students entering grades 9-12) – S.T.E.M. 301 students will build something to race around campus using only recycled products. Not to worry, helmets will be provided. June 16.

Ultimate Technology Boot Camp (for students entering grades 9-12) – Students in the Ultimate Technology Boot Camp, a 10-day residential program, will explore games, robotics, apps and animation. Students will work in teams with ASU faculty to build games, apps and robots. They will experience campus life, staying at the state-of-the-art Century Hall. Students will visit the Arizona Science Center, Intel Embedded Lab, ASU Flight Simulation and ASU Decision Theater. June 16-27 (excluding Saturday and Sunday).