It’s Late On A Saturday Night. Do You Know Where Your Children Are?

LRmodEWBdinner1-TEDSUN_72487Your kids (well, college students) have moved out and don’t answer your calls or texts. Unless they’re broke.

Ever wonder what they’re up to at night?

Well, if you were to sneak onto campus one (or most any) evening, you’d discover: Ignite Rolla; two hours of what looks like stand-up comedy, but it’s serious. The Council of Graduate Students hosted a Ted Talks-style evening devoted to ideas worth spreading. Among the dozen or so student speakers were members of two student design teams who presented on topics that inspire them. Brian Gifford, long a stalwart of the Solar House Design Team and four-year S&T basketball player, drew a strong analogy between childhood memories and the need to develop long-term sustainable housing in the U.S.

LRmodEWBdinner1-TEDSUN_74731Hanna Frye and Kelsey Crossen of iGEM (International Genetically Engineered Machine) gave Ignite Rolla a redux of their technical presentation of how their DNA modification holds promise of reducing coal-fired power planet emissions into ammonia fertilizer.

Saturday night is for celebrating, EWB-style (Engineers Without Borders), with a rice and beans banquet. Sound tasty? It was, with authentic recipes from their customer communities in Central and South America. This event was a celebration of the life-saving clean water
BLOG2blprintprojects these students designed and built for remote villages in Guatemala, Bolivia and Honduras. More important, it was a way of saying “Thank you!” to the people that inspire these 20-somethings to tackle these enormous, real-life challenges, their advisors and key financial backers who help make these trips possible.

LAtheblogDSC_6504For a post-dinner stroll, drop in the Student Design and Experiential Learning Center and listen to the chaos. Loud music. Shouting. Hammer on steel. Humming lathes and mills. The sound of production, of work being done. Design teams are beginning to turn their designs into reality. Evaluation via non-destructive testing, which sometimes turns into destructive testing, whether they like it or not.

They’re learning the language of the machine shop. The metals and composites are “talking” to students, saying “are you really sure I’m the best choice of materials for this thing on which you are staking your engineering reputation?” A daunting thought…………..

Engineering Scholarships For Former Golf Caddies?

Really?

Advancing Business Through Technology. Bored Engineers. And “Like Trying To Catch A Blender!”

FSAEBlogDSC_4225So said one member of S&T’s Formula SAE Team when it was time to recover the “flying menu.” But if that was the scariest thing at Saturday’s S&T Autocross Invitational, then it was a pretty good day.

Purdue, Wichita State, Toledo, Mizzou, the Illini and Missouri S&T spent the day running timed laps, gathering data, and entertaining cyclists along the Katy Trail. It’s the annual gathering of the more serious regional collegiate racing design teams, when teams gather to tweak and test cars, train new drivers and run over the occasional errant orange rubber cone. It’s also a fundraiser for the Miners who coordinate the whole event, including the hamburger and soda stand. And that’s where the bored engineers and the blender come in…………..

QuadcopterSUN_3469It wasn’t non-stop, wheel-to-wheel racing. Far from it. Teams trotted out their machines when it suited them. There might be two cars on the track, or 15 minutes where the only sounds came from bicycle tires on the nearby gravel path. Booooooring! Boredom and engineers are a hazardous combination. They’ll either build something or take something apart to see how it works.

BlunderSUN_3472-2And that’s when the trouble started. In a somewhat chancy attempt to drum up business someone thought “we need to show more people the menu! Let’s use the quad rotor to fly the signboard around!”
The conversion of the light sport aircraft to cargo hauler was not without serious issues. A slight breeze started to blow the sign (and the quadcopter) northward, uneasily close to someone’s parked car. The next change in wind direction spun the placard into the rotors, threatening to produce a fine rain of confetti. Simply landing the signboard was risky, as it might fall sideways and wreck the chopper.
Up stepped human recovery vehicle Jon Silberhorn, who gently (and very carefully) plucked the flying weed-wacker from low orbit. It was Jon who said it was “like trying to catch a blender.”

Much of Car #3’s day was for testing. Tuft testing. Scientific yarn in the wind; real-life laminar flow analysis.
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Confirmation of computer modeling. Learning. Doing. Experience.

Photo credit: Image 1, Kim Green.

Christmas In September

Yeah, it’s a cliche, but we’re not talking about Halloween/Thanksgiving/Christmas decorations on store shelves before the summer even ends.

It’s a fact of life that design team students must project their manufacturing/material needs many months in advance. Stealing a line from “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” students are “making their list and checking it twice” to get the materials on hand when needed.

Design teams aren’t funded by the university, they’re “assisted.” They can’t simply buy what they need (blank check? Fuggedaboutit!) unless they’ve found the cash, and that’s a tough process. A better idea is to establish long-term sponsor relationships with people who have a stake in S&T’s experiential learning programs.

A top “stakeholder” is Chuck Miller of Coastal Enterprises, manufacturer of high density urethane (HDU) boards. Coastal’s HDU boards are used dimensional signage, model making, marine applications and a variety of tooling applications from solar car forms to robot shrouds. Chuck’s crew not only ships pallet-upon-pallet of this high-dollar material freeto Rolla each year, they also follow the progress of many S&T design teams. They’re proud to trumpet our Human-Powered Vehicle’s progress in a California event, and Chuck even drove down to Irvine, California to meet the Miners’ Solar House Team last fall.

The Human Powered Vehicle Team first “negotiated” the Coastal relationship. The “negotiations” had but one contractual term, pay-it-forward; pass on to others the good that has been done to you. Now the Mars Rover, Formula SAE, Solar Car, and Robotics Competition teams all share in the largesse, and any excess gets hauled to competition and shared with other universities.

That’s a life-long lesson that you don’t find in a textbook.

If you’ll excuse us we have to email Chuck with our HDU needs for the 2014-2015 season.

THANKS, Chuck (and Amy, Brad, Don and Krystle)!

It’s SHOW TIME!

Opening Week at Missouri S&T means over a thousand wide-eyed freshmen running hither and yon, moving into dorms and having fun in everything from parties to academic workshops, Project X to a pig roast, all under the loving and watchful eyes of Patty Frisbee’s minions in New Student Programs.

At the shop? It’s been four years since the Student Design and Experiential Learning Center moved to the new Kummer building, more than enough time to knock the shine off the floor. And the walls. And the cabinets. The machine shop and specialty labs have been cleaned up and restocked with supplies; now it’s the full-court press to make the Arnoldy Fabrication Center ready for student groups to move back in.

Design team “season” is no longer just during the spring semester. Robotics, Formulae SAE Lincoln, Mars Rover and Solar Car competitions last through June into July. Two of next year’s Baja events will take place during finals week and after the semester ends, making it tougher still to do summer cleaning and equipment maintenance.
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Yesterday S&T’s BAJA! Team jumped in and helped shop manager Richard “Mater” Dalton shove all the projects to one area and attack the floor. They scraped away at epoxy, tape, and other undetermined material stuck to the concrete after too many student all-nighters, before starting the massive stripping process. The all-Baja crew worked late and asked if they could stay even later and do the whole shop in one day. Great attitude, but no place to move the equipment out of the way.
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Typical of in-semester student teams, if they work late they straggle in late the next day, so Richard found himself all alone. But his office coworkers did their best to help by posting signs of encouragement.

Solar Miner VIII Rallies, Takes 7th

The American Solar Challenge, the biennial road/highway endurance test for cars and teams alike, wrapped up today at the University of Minnesota campus.

Solar car racing events, whether the annual track race or the biennial road journey, are like big family reunions. The place to renew friendships with competitors, manufacturers and officials alike, and learn from all of them. Competitors share their design ideas and excitement, manufacturers attend to see how their solar arrays are doing and lend moral support, and officials, many of whom are solar car veterans, watch for all the tricks that students try, because their teams did the same thing back “in the day.”

But the fun and camaraderie masks the hard work needed to field a solar car, or manage any other complex project.
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Missouri S&T’s Solar Car Team has been in a long rebuilding period. They hadn’t qualified for the track since 2011 so their focus was on reorganizing the team and cobbling together systems that weren’t necessarily designed to integrate well. In short, the checkbook was closed and they had to make do with what they had, and it became a great motivational learning tool because they did remarkably well at Formula Sun Grand Prix in Austin, Texas just two weeks ago.
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Out of twenty international teams, the Miners took 7th place despite driving just two of the available three track days. On the last day they climbed as high as 3rd for the day but the loss of a track day left them in a still-admirable position when the track finally closed. They wanted to make sure the car was finally “right,” and it was. Drivers Austin Holmsley and Devin Valmores guided Solar Miner VIII through 88 penalty- and trouble-free laps, right at 300 miles, in two mostly cloudy days. That performance more than qualified Missouri S&T for the Austin-to-Minneapolis road race but weeks earlier the team decided to return home.

We support the team’s choice. Finances and a lack of road experience played a part in the decision, but the students recognized the real goal was to qualify with a good car and a good team, which they did.

These are young students, and they learned the value of team operations and successful communications. They came back fired up and are already planning the car that will run in summer 2016. In fact, they are considering renaming the team “reCHARGE” in recognition of what they hope is Missouri S&T’s return to top-tier, cross-country performance.

Oh, yeah, Michigan won the road race.

40 Laps. 137 Miles. Under Full Cloud Cover

Not bad, not bad at all!

A near-faultless drive by Devin Valamores and Austin Homesly, and a very dependable car that vanquished The Hill.

The entertainment was on the straightaway and The Hill. Everywhere else it was “slow and steady” to keep energy consumption to an absolute minimum, because it was nearly impossible to wring power from the skies.

Despite a later start than most teams S&T climbed as high as #5 in the lap count before ending up #6 with 40 laps. Who’d a thunk a team that was on the ropes a year ago could storm back so strongly? Well, they did!

This team set goals. Arrive Check!. Work as a team Got It!. Qualify for the track race Yeah, Baby!. Turn 100 laps in three days. Very doable!

Tomorrow is supposed to be sunny. With a fully checked-out car, and an on-time start, 60 laps or more is well within their sights. And that would make it a clean sweep of the challenges the Miners set out to solve.

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Let’s not forget the efforts of our erstwhile crew of top-notch photographers who drive trucks and vans full of comatose students for days at a time. Who brave heat, rain, boredom, biting insects and loose dogs to bring you these amazing pictures.
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Due to their girth and horrible fashion sense, we think it better that we not identify them.

The Little Red Solar Car That (Finally) Could!

SIUESouthern Illinois University-Edwardsville is the underdog, the team everyone is pulling for. Rumor is they use an old motor that makes a heckuva racket, but that just doesn’t have the “oomph!” They’ve attacked The Hill over and cover again to no avail. Each time they rev up their machine, everybody takes notice. Each time, people surge forward to see if they’ll finally make it, only to be disappointed again.

Until a little after 1:00 this afternoon.

SIUE’s young woman driver made three runs in short order but then something changed. Same noise, same ponderous rate of climb, but the motor didn’t seem to fade, it just kept growling. Little by little, to the ecstatic cheers of their solar-racing peers it finally made it!

Since then SIUE has figured it out and she is turning lap after steady lap, turtles-and-hare style. The haven’t clawed onto the leader board, but the car works at last.

Good for them!

It’s Good To Be Back!

Hill42DSC_0283Hill? What hill?

Solar Miner VIII took the hill from hell as if it wasn’t even there. No 200-yard running start, no hesitating, no fear, just boys-will-be-boys pedal to the carbon fiber and jaws dropped all over the paddock.
pitsDSC_0312#42 has been running steady laps for nearly two hours now. A brief pit stop to check on things and it was back on the track. The support crew is basking in the glow of S&T’s return to top-tier solar racing. And they’ve grown a LOT as students, peers, and leaders in just the past two weeks.

The only dark cloud is the dark clouds. Rain swept through last night but grey skies show no sign of moving out. The Hill may have the last laugh this afternoon, as battery packs wane, and it becomes strategy, strategy, strategy. Like a few teams yesterday who drove around the course is what could best be described as a “crawl.” But once they hit the straightaway it was an all-out attack on The Hill. Most successful, some not. Just like today.

At Dawn They Ride!

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If the damned rain ever quits…………..