From a propeller made of an ice cream stick to Estonia’s first solar car

How an ice cream stick shifted Juri’s world

Juri Volodin. Photo from a private collection

In Juri Volodin’s home there wasn’t a single toy that was left intact – everything was meant to be taken apart in order to understand how something works. One day, Juri’s father took the motor of a broken toy, two wires, and an ice cream stick. As he connected all the parts, the ice cream stick placed on the motor started moving.

“These were pointless things to me, broken and without any use, but suddenly it all started working. For me, this was something impossible, and from that point on my world had shifted,” recalled Juri of the moment his passion for creating started.

Juri’s interest in life sciences manifested in a similar way and has carried him through his young life. From the 8th grade on, Juri took part in countless chemistry Olympiads. As there wasn’t an apparatus for every chemistry experiment in his school, Juri, as a model student with a desire to do and learn more, put the apparatus together himself, for the most part.

As a high school student, Juri wished to connect his love for chemistry with his future studies, which is why he applied to many UK universities to study it further. Although he got into most of them, he still decided to go with his gut feeling and began studying informatics at the University of Tartu. After a year in informatics, he went on to study physics, chemistry, and material science. As of now, he is on his third year writing his bachelor’s thesis.

Building a solar car makes Juri’s inner child happier

Last summer, Juri wanted to be a good big brother and bring his sister to Solaride’s model solar car workshop to see whether it could spark a love for life sciences in his sister as well. Unfortunately, they didn’t make it to the workshop, but nonetheless Juri did not forget about Solaride. A few months later, he became an electronic engineer for Solaride, helping to build Estonia’s first solar powered car which will race in Australia’s World Solar Challenge.

“It seemed to be the project I had always hoped someone would start, so that there would be a chance to actually use the knowledge gained so far. It seemed to be destined for me to apply and also the people working there seemed to be really cool. And in projects like this, getting to know people is really important,” said Juri.

This is what the solar car’s 3D model looks like in the final stages of design. Image credit: Solaride

In speaking about the benefits and motivators for working in Solaride as a volunteer, Juri first mentions that for him it’s not so much about the gain. It is about doing something that makes you light up a bit and to do it with people who also see this project as an opportunity to do something cool for an environmentally friendly future.

“The network you create is important everywhere. Working in such a project is not only a gain, it’s simply enjoying life. You have fun with people who have the same interests. I think it’s great if everyone has a bit of that inner child in them, interested in that kind of a world. I’d say these kinds of activities make my inner child much happier. I think it’s one of the main reasons why I even started with this world of creation.”

Juri focuses on the solar car cover and heat resistance

During the five months spent at Solaride, Juri has mainly helped make important decisions in the car design. He also connected the work at Solaride to his bachelor’s thesis. In fact, he’s developing a cover for the car that would reduce air resistance, which therefore reduces fuel consumption. The cover would use the effects of aerodynamics and electrodynamics, combining them to get the best possible result.

Juri’s assignment was also to make calculations regarding battery warming, and based on that to decide which material should be used to isolate it and protect it from heat radiation.

“As we’ll be driving in a desert where the road can be up to 65 degrees, we need to isolate the battery from the external environment. For that, I have to find the most suitable isolation material and decide whether it’s best to buy it or make the components ourselves,” said Juri.

The first generation of the solar car should be ready to roll by summer 2021. Image credit: Solaride

In addition, Juri made simulations regarding the heating of the car’s electronics to identify the possibilities of overheating.

“In recent years, some cars caught fire during the competition. I wouldn’t want our car to become fireworks, but at the same time every experience is beneficial!” jokes Juri while talking about the dangers of building the car.

While talking about Solaride’s near future and ambitions, Juri’s eyes get big and he starts to smile. When he thinks about the feeling he’d get when he sees the solar car finally moving, he compares it to the feeling he got when he saw the propeller that his father made move, but now on a larger scale.

University as a network of people, not a base of knowledge

Juri finds that working at Solaride has definitely supported his knowledge gained and mentions that this internship is genuine and helps solve real life problems. The biggest challenge so far for him has been the understanding that reality tends to differ from theories. He points out that theories and practice shouldn’t be separated because “theories explain practice and practice explains theories.”

According to Juri, the university supports internships in informatics studies. However, in physics, chemistry, and material science, research is the focus. He mentions that these studies would be more popular and valuable if the university cooperated with companies in the field and offered more possibilities for students to do internships. However, Juri mentions that every person is equally responsible for getting an internship.

Juri points out that the most important aspect about studying at a university involves the connections students make. “I think that a university is like a network of people. It isn’t just a place to get knowledge. Nowadays, you can get knowledge anywhere. The main benefit of attending a university is the people you get to know. That is the important thing about going to a university,” Juri concluded.

Read also: Estonian Team Readies Solar Vehicle for High Stakes International Race

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