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A native of Cordova is on a team of engineers working to make history with the world's first solar-powered SUV — a vehicle that would reliably carry four people.

In October, the Iowa Staters will compete in the World Solar Challenge in southern Australia, an 1,800-mile race across Australia of team-engineered solar cars from all over the world.

Called the Penumbra, it is the 14th solar car design from Iowa State University's PrISUm team. This student-run organization has more than 100 members, many of them engineering students.

One of the team leaders — responsible for the car's charging port — is Sean Robinson, 20, a 2015 graduate of Riverdale High School in Port Byron.

Robinson got involved as a beginning engineering student who was invited to a Team PrISUm meeting. "They are all great people, and they actually can help me, academically, as well as be friends," he said.

Robinson sees his involvement in Team PrISUm as possibly leading to a job in the future.

The director of Team PrISUm is Matt Goode of Coggen, Iowa. Goode was in elementary school when he helped his neighbor rebuild the V8 engine for a Ford Mustang. In high school, he had his own engine-rebuilding business. He and his dad also converted a Jeep CJ5 into a fully electric car.

By the time Goode got to the Iowa State campus in Ames, he was an easy choice for the solar car team. Now 21, he was elected project director of the team that aims to make history in the solar vehicle world.

Team PrISUm was founded at Iowa State in 1989. Over the years, the students have designed more than a dozen cars to drive in national solar competitions. To date, the cars were essentially for a single person, the driver. 

For the event in Australia, they will take the Penumbra, a vehicle currently under construction. Goode was interviewed as he watched the molds the students had designed return in a semi-truck after they were treated by Plastics Unlimited, of Preston, Iowa.

Assistant project director Dylan Neal, 22, of Webster Groves, Missouri, said the car is an ergonomic design, with a usable trunk, dashboard, and headlights — like the Tesla vehicles.

"It's the same look as a Tesla but it will be very light, and strong, and run off of solar power," Neal said.

The students are in the process of raising $250,000 for Team PrISUm; this will help to fund the world challenge trip. The club is student-governed and student-operated, funded by donations and supported by sponsors.

Once team members finish building the Penumbra, they plan to bring it to all 99 counties of Iowa, including the Davenport area.

The students are trying to build a vehicle that people, some day, you can just buy. "We've never done something of this scale, but it will be incredible once it's done," Goode said.

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