Chris Deline, a native of Midland, Michigan, earned his bachelor’s, master’s, and PhD all in electrical engineering at Michigan from 1999-2008. Despite his stellar academic record, he started out like everyone else. He recalls assembling the solar array as a freshman on Maize Blaze but having “absolutely terrible soldering skills.” Some of his solar cell strings were rejected because he constructed it so that all the positive leads and all the negative leads were connected, which shorted everything out. Not sure at that point exactly why they decided to keep him, he clearly overcame his early troubles and contributed greatly to the team over the years.
Chris joined in freshmen year. When he attended the welcome meeting in the Lee Iacoca lecture hall, he remembers Jose′ Alvarez, a current team member at the time, suggesting crazy projects like using depleted uranium as ballast because it might take up less space than lead shot. Although, they never ended up pursuing that, Chris realized that if anything big or high tech was going to happen on campus, it was going to be with this group. He says, “They were dreaming big.”
In addition to the electrical work, Chris also did some sourcing and was eventually selected to go to Australia for WSC to work on operations. One story about the race really stuck with him: “My biggest blunder was when we were looking for a driver and semi-truck to tow our semi-trailer in Australia. We were given an offer by Trevor Philbey who owned his own cab to take the trailer on the race, but I thought he was asking for too much money. So I put an ad in the newspaper and got an offer for a guy who would do it for free. When this guy tried to pick up the rental semi cab, he had no idea how to work the clutch, only had a handful of teeth and one good eye, and was pretty ill-tempered to boot. We had a quick conference and decided to ditch this guy and go with Trevor instead. It ended up being a much better solution. We probably wouldn’t have even gotten to the start line with the other guy.”
Chris was the electrical leader for M-Pulse, and along with the 1999 WSC, he participated in the 2001 ASC and WSC. Some of his favorite memories were the warm nights on top of the trailer and being able to focus 100% of his energy on one certain task, collaborating with some of the most motivated people he has ever met, and achieving impossible goals. One such goal was rebuilding M-Pulse after its crash three weeks before ASC. Moreover, Chris thought the team overcame adversity when the workspace burnt down in 1999. The team had to rebuild the program, recover all the important equipment, and start again in a new place.
Now, he works at NREL in solar panel research and development and says that he owes it to his experience on solar car. Time management and familiarity with power systems were values he learned from his time on the team. He was impressed by the 2011 WSC team, namely the business connections, smooth teamwork, and media coverage. And here is his advice for the team today: “Keep dreaming big, and enjoy the time you have at this point in your careers – the memories will stick with you for your whole lives!”