Solar Punch

Written by: 
Elizabeth Smith

When particle accelerator physicist Alan Bigelow (’91, ’93 M.S., ’00 Ph.D.) is not smashing atoms, he’s playing guitar with his eco-rock band Solar Punch to promote solar energy and ecological responsibility. Bigelow, an associate research scientist at Columbia University, taught UNT’s popular “Science and Technology of Musical Sound” course as a teaching fellow.

“I learned tools of the trade from extraordinary physics professors,” he says, “and gigged in local clubs with outstanding UNT musicians.”

Solar Punch’s first studio album of environmental rock released in 2009 featured all-original songs with tailored messages about solar science and environmental activism. The title, Surya, translates as “sun” in Hindi.

And the sun isn’t only a theme but a method. The band’s equipment is powered by an off-grid solar power station assembled from portable solar panels, a charge controller, batteries and a power converter. Bigelow can charge the station in transit to gigs with a solar panel mounted atop his Subaru. At each performance, he puts his teaching skills to work, showing audiences how the gear works and expounding on sustainability.

In early 2009, the band traveled by solar-electric cars across India on a 40-day tour to spotlight climate solutions.

“We negotiated for electrical power at gas stations, hotels and dhabas (road-side eateries),” says Bigelow (kneeling above), who fondly remembers repairing a solar lantern “using a multi-meter, spoon and razor” and discussing solar-induced water-purification techniques through an interpreter at a town-hall meeting.

With another trip to India completed, a second album due out this year and plans for a tour of France and the Caribbean, Bigelow hopes to inspire others to join the cause.

“Music is indeed an international language,” he says.