Cross-country trek in electric vehicle tests the limits of charging network, finds faces tackling climate change along the way

Sophie Shrand standing in front of solar panels.
Sophie Shrand will be on the Boston campus Sept. 29 for a Northeastern University energy conference. Photo by Brendan Mulhern

When Northeastern graduate and TV show host Sophie Shrand decided she was going to make a documentary about taking a cross-country trip in an electric vehicle, she knew she needed to do more than just travel from Point A to Point B. 

Along the journey, it was important for her to meet some of the many individuals working to make transportation more sustainable, she says. 

Starting from her home in Los Angeles on Sept. 7, she traveled across the country’s heartland to New York City in 13 days. The trip certainly has had its challenges, but she made some memorable experiences along the way.

“I went horseback riding with cowboys in Bryce Canyon, Utah. We met people working in a library in a tiny little town in Kansas that have started a STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and math) program. We’ve met students in Ohio who are building electric motorcycles,” she says.  

And she’s not done yet. 

On Friday, Shrand will be stopping by Northeastern as part of the Northeastern University Energy Conference organized by The Energy Systems Society, a student club on campus that focuses on advocating for renewable energy education and research. She will be in front of the Snell Library with the Rivian R1S on loan to her for the trip, answering students’ questions about the vehicle, her trip so far, and getting their thoughts on how to address the climate crisis. 

Entertaining and educating young people about science is at the heart of Shrand’s passions. Having graduated from Northeastern in 2011 with a bachelor of science degree in behavioral neuroscience and bachelor of arts degree in theater with a concentration in performance, Shrand has spent the last decade putting those degrees to use.

In 2018, she launched “Science With Sophie,” a children’s TV show hosted on YouTube and the free streaming service Kidoodle TV. The Telly Award-winning show touches on a range of zany and out-of-the box topics, from potholes and bubble gum to optical illusions and simple machines. Shrand and her team are in the process of filming season four of the show, which Shrand notes will be totally different than the past three seasons. 

In fact, the documentary is season four. At least that’s the plan for now, she says. 

To date, the show has reached more than 2 million families across the world and has viewers in every continent, she says.

With the documentary, Shrand says she is trying to answer two fundamental questions. Is this kind of trip in an EV possible? Secondly, can these kinds of trips be fun?

“So far, the answers to both of those questions is yes,” she says. 

Other people’s mileage may vary, of course, as different electric vehicles have different amounts of range and charging capabilities. Shrand is executing the trip with her husband in a Rivian that has up to 340 miles of range on a full charge, she says.  Her film crew is also meeting her at different spots along the journey.  That’s not to say she hasn’t faced issues with charging. She notes that the country’s charging infrastructure needs a lot of work. 

“We can find chargers, but are they where they say they are? Are they operating at the speed that they are marketing? Is there a line for them? Are the plugs broken? That has been the biggest frustration so far, by a long shot,” she says. “There’s some inconsistency with these companies that are creating these chargers and there doesn’t seem to be a lot of accountability for them.”

Shrand is providing updates of her journey on Instagram and TikTok, asking viewers to chime in with any questions they have for the people she’s interviewing for the documentary.

She credits Northeastern with helping her chart her own path, as the university allowed her to pursue her love of science and theater in parallel. 

“It’s the main reason I chose Northeastern as my school because I knew I wanted to do science that related to humans,” she says. “And I’ve been an actor my whole life and I didn’t want to give that up.” 

She distinctly remembers meeting Jim Steller, the former dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and a former professor of behavioral science, during Accepted Students Day and telling him about her college career goals. 

“He was like, ‘Come to Northeastern, study behavioral neuroscience, work in my lab, and we’ll go from there,’” she says. “Every other school I looked at said, ‘Those things are too different. You have to choose.’ Northeastern said, ‘No, don’t choose. You’ll be really busy, but try them both.’” 

Shrand completed a number of co-ops at a few research labs, but the one that really stands out was her co-op at the Museum of Science in Boston. In that role, she worked as a science education fellow and taught students about the museum’s offerings. 

“I got a job that I always considered a dream job,” she says. “Fast forward 13 years, and now I consult the Museum of Science in Boston. I work with them a lot.” 

While Shrand has almost completed the first leg of the trip, she still has to make it back home to LA. This time, her and husband will be heading south, hitting up states including Louisiana and Texas. 

They plan to take a little more time on the way back, hoping to get home in a month or so. 

“We have a lot more questions to ask and things to test,” she says. 

Cesareo Contreras is a Northeastern Global News reporter. Email him at Follow him on Twitter @cesareo_r and Threads @cesareor.