Got Lemons? Make Lemonade!

Late nights, lots of testing, and some help from other teams finally got Duchess’ electronic brains working as designed, but ‘twas all for naught.
The rookie designers misinterpreted two critical rules involving the car’s battery pack. The high-voltage disconnect was downstream instead of upstream of the batteries, and battery temperature sensors weren’t properly fastened to the tabs. Either of those oversights alone would be enough to boot them from eTech, and neither could be redesigned in anything close to the time available. That barred the Miners from moving on to mechanical tech inspection and eventually to the track.

It didn’t take this group long to rally their spirits and say ”well, if we can’t do what we WANT to do, what’s here that we CAN take advantage of for next year?”

Since mechanical tech wasn’t an option they did the next best thing; they persuaded the ME inspectors to do a mock inspection as if it were the real thing. And the results were pretty encouraging.

The Mech inspectors tallied a small list of things that needed to be fixed. Had it been a “real” inspection it would have taken just 2-3 hours to knock out those items and the track would have been theirs.
Second, they went back to the electrical inspectors with more questions about what they could do better. If you haven’t been to one of these events before you’d be surprised by the amount of down-to-earth teaching and learning that goes on in the garages.

S&T Formula Electric had already placed 2nd in weight, 3rd in cost, and 4th in design, tremendous feats all for a rookie team. There were about fifteen electric teams on site this week, maybe ten of which tackled the inspections. Other squads were far from finished but brought their cars along to see what it would take to meet the standards. Some were veteran teams who had been through the process before. Out of these 10-15 teams only four actually passed all inspections and just three recorded autocross track times.

Not bad, not bad at all!

Racing Design is Equal Part Hard Work, Boredom, and Excitement

The hard work has been going on for the past year, and continues unchecked until the end of the season.

When teams, electric or combustion, descend on competition sites at the Michigan International Speedway, Germany’s Hockenheimring, or the airport tarmac at Lincoln, Nebraska, the crucial details fall to the sleepUN_6781lead electrical or mechanical engineers, while the support crew is poised to spring into action at a moment’s notice.

In a four-day FSAE design event the most experienced and successful teams might drive the car for a total of FAST2DSC_1738three hours, so track time is highly prized. Things can and do go wrong in skid pad, autocross and endurance, but just like the entire design/build cycle, the best learning comes from figuring out what went wrong.

Mars missions are all the rage!

The S&T Robotics team has eschewed the annual Intelligent Ground Vehicle Competition (IGVC) for something a little warmer. Instead of the Detroit’s northern suburbs they’re at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida for NASA’s 7th annual Robotic Mining Competition
With an eye towards eventual manned missions to Mars NASA is looking for operational ideas NOW. The event gives university-level student teams the chance to design and build mining robots that can traverse a simulated chaotic Martian terrain, excavate Martian regolith and deposit the material into a collector bin in ten minutes or less.
RobotsleeperRyan Loeffelman sent this event summary: “We’ve been having a lot of fun here, and learned quite a bit so far. On the trip down we damaged our robot and it took some time to make repairs and our first official competition run didn’t go as well as we hoped; we got stuck in a hole. Wednesday night we fixed the robot only to have thunderstorms on Thursday shut down the event for safety reasons. Today an on-board computer connection failed and kept us from loading all the required regolith. You can see from the photo that we worked some pretty long hours.”
Ryan Loeffelman

Tech is about the race car. Design is about you.

Your team. Your design approach. Your management. Your process. All of which is the heart, the raison d’etre of experiential learning at Missouri S&T (and all those other schools).
FINALTripleprintFSAEIn design you are assigned one hour of uninterrupted, face-to-face grilling by industry experts. A whole bunch of them. Specialists in automotive drive train, suspension, electronics, materials, manufacturing, you name it. Why did you do this? What was your reason for this? Show me the data to back up your conclusions. It’s all professional and courteous but it’s almost as if they are daring you to convince/persuade/impress them.

The team puts forward its own subject matter experts to prove the concepts behind Car #50. The design goals, the implementation and methodology behind each decision, the execution, testing, validation and innovation. Your years of education and experience.

And communication. Paraphrasing Einstein, you must be able to explain the project succinctly and accurately, or it will be obvious you don’t understand it well.

One Miner summed it up pretty well when he said “We did pretty well because the judges stopped asking questions. That means we did a good job of communicating our concepts.”

To which Mark Welty laughed “Or else they thought we were total idiots…”

No chance of that, as S&T has been in the top tier of this event for much of the past decade.

There’s a reason it’s called the “Tilt Test”

TiltDSC_2174After Tech inspection each team’s car has to go through a few more tests before it’s certified to race.

The most unorthodox is the tilt table, which tests each car’s center of gravity. Each team must push their pride and joy up on the platform where General Motors volunteer Ibrahim Mohamed attaches a safety strap and gives the order to start the pneumatic jacks.

The car (and driver) is raised sideways, first to a 45 degree angle, then to an awkward and nerve-racking 60+ degrees. If all four tires remain on the rails, then you’re good to go. Most pass; some don’t.

While it’s up at that there safety inspectors also check for fuel or oil leaks. No leak, no problem. Should drips appear you have some work to do, so things get kinda tense.

With many dozens of cars to test, officials have been known to get bored, and boredom often begets mischief. This afternoon one fire official sewed panic when he proclaimed “You’ve sprung a leak!” to one skittish team. Frantic students raced to see the source while the now-grinning worker pointed out “Here! You sprung a dust leak!”

It took the students a few seconds to realize they’d been scammed, and only then did they think it was funny.

When a New Team Gets Their First “Title” Sponsor

Missouri S&T’s Formula Electric Vehicle Team is set to unveil their first car in June, a project that’s been two years in the making, but right now they’re celebrating their first big sponsorship deal. Materials technology and recycling company Umicore has signed on as the team’s “title” financial supporter. The Belgium-based firm, whose mantra is to produce “materials for a better life,” chose Missouri S&T as their first state-side collegiate partner for two reasons: S&T’s international reputation among student design teams, and the Formula Electric team’s use of the materials Umicore produces.

During a recent visit to S&T design team facilities Formula Electric team leader Nathan Bookout shows Executive Vice-President of Umicore USA Inc  Mark Caffarey some battery connectors the team produced on a 3D printer.

During a recent visit to S&T design team facilities Formula Electric team leader Nathan Bookout shows Executive Vice-President of Umicore USA Inc Mark Caffarey some battery connectors the team produced on a 3D printer.

Umicore doesn’t make the motors, batteries or steel needed to build an electric racecar, but they are a global leader in producing the key materials for rechargeable batteries in hybrid and electric cars. Sponsoring S&T’s Formula Electric Team is thus the perfect vehicle (sorry!) for announcing Umicore’s North American presence and lets the Miners tout that they’re “powered by Umicore.”

Umicore’s history both parallels and pre-dates that of S&T; the firm started as a mining company some 65 years before the Missouri School of Mines first called Rolla home.

The Miners may not be building the best electric car but they are learning how to be the best electric car engineers for the future. That means their personal and professional development should mirror that of Umicore’s growth in the U.S. economy.

Spring Break. ROAD TRIP!!!

Competition season is less than a month away so teams are ramping up their efforts. Instead of late-night cramming for exams it’s late-night composites, machining and testing.
UnloadDSC_5203While average students at average universities hollered “Road Trip!” and headed for the beaches, S&T students were doing more important things. The Miners hung around last week to work on a number of projects (Mars Rover, SAE Baja, Concrete Canoe, and Human Powered Vehicle, to name a few), but it was the Formula SAE team that really put forward the effort.
Their “road trip” pointed north, close to the chilly shores of Lake Huron, and Ford Motor Company’s massive Detroit-area wind tunnel. And their “all-nighter” was a pizza-fueled data collection marathon.

The crew strapped the car to the turntable in one of the world’s most sophisticated research facilities, usedRoll-inDSC_5588 to measure everything from downforce of racing vehicles to wind noise on production cars. Their goal? To see if the car’s aero performance validated their design calculations.

Did we mention the place was big? Oh, yeah, it was big. REALLY big!
Welty3DSC_5729 Aerodynamics leader David Long came prepared with a highly-detailed test list and would direct his crew to make very precise changes. Then they’d retreat to the control room where Mark Welty, responsible for aerodynamics computational fluid dynamics (CFD) analysis was glued to video monitors looking for the elusive proof that their design was successful. In each case they’d make a change, pile back in the control room, fire up the airflow, take measurements, shut down the fan and repeat. Over and over.

Once the entire aero package was tested it was time to tweak individual components; change a wing angle and restart the 7-meter high turbine. Again.

Smoke3DSC_5820It was well past midnight when the tests were complete, so they switched to a more primitive kind of data mining; the smoke test. Mark showed younger members how the computer data was reflected in visible patterns of air flow, some turbulent, some calm. How air could be directed to the radiators or away from drag-inducing surfaces.

All to prove to competition judges that they left no questions unresolved in the design of an exceptional vehicle.

We can’t close this road-trip saga without a tip of the hat to Steve Jacob and his crew. They simply couldn’t do enough for the Miners. Wanna see the massive turbine? Sure! Like to see the incredible turntable drive system? Right this way! Steve, Zach, and the late-shift Steve were simply thrilled to see “cool stuff” (S&T’s race car), “something new” in their test facility, and were heard to say “it’s good to do some real engineering for a change!”

And that, dear readers, is why S&T’s FSAE car sports a big blue “FORD” logo on its nose. The very least we can do for such wonderful support!

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…………..

The Wonder of Social Media

One could argue that email is the controlling force in our lives. It’s a vital link between us and our family members, our business and customers both internal and external, our shopping, even our doctors, making that 8:00 login an essential daily ritual.

When dawn broke this chilly morn, tops on our inbox was this important message: Do you know KATY PERRY, Taylor Swift and Kevin Hart on Twitter?

Uh, no. No more than we wish to become part of the fall of civilization, where hordes wait breathlessly for the latest utterances of manufactured “celebrities”, where a TV show about nothing stays on the air for a decade or more. What’s the next catastrophe? Wrestling isn’t real? The new president of Michigan gets in hot water for criticizing their hallowed football program? Say it ain’t so!

How did we ever get along without this technological blessing?

Oh, the (lack of) Humanity!

The Science of Halloween. Or, how E. coli can be your friend.

IgemJuanValdezSUN_6474Halloween in Boston, and the annual iGEM (International Genetically Engineered Machines Giant Jamboree. One weekend, two parties, and the line between the two was, uh, blurred. Where else could you find the world’s most promising young scientific minds presenting cutting-edge scientific research dressed as a unicorn, Count Dracula, a banana, or Columbian coffee legend *Juan Valdez?

The mood was light but the work was serious. The Jamboree is where thousands of student researchers from all over the world come to report on a year’s worth of synthetic biology lab experiments. Synthetic biology is a new field of science; so new it hasn’t yet been smothered by large organizations overwhelmed with regulations, lawyers and red tape. It’s still the realm of idealistic young people trying to make life better for all of us. They’re old enough to do great work but young enough not to take themselves too seriously.

Many of the projects are targeted toward specific affected segments of medical care, the economy, or the environment and the inevitable ties among the three.
IgemSUN_6142The Missouri Miners presented on using cyanothese to “fix” nitric oxide emissions from coal flues. Nitrogen fixation converts nitrogen compounds into ammonia fertilizer to remedy the negative effects of coal, a common source of industrial energy. Hannah Frye, Kira Buckowing and Kelsey Crossen’s team presentation even made note of the recent decommissioning of S&T’s coal-fired power plant. S&T students Hannah Kim, Jordan Sanders, Aaron Jankelow, Levi Palmer, Keith Loveless, helped with the Miners’ presentation and poster sessions, while team advisor Dr. Dave Westenberg kept a low profile over his charges.

A British university is identifying enzymes that degrade TNT wastes from 20th century munition plants into harmless products.

Another team wants to develop a biological system marker that indicates the presence of peanut allergens in food products.

Still another is using genetically-modified E. coli to break down waste cooking oil into a marketable terpanoid.

One school came to Beantown to explain how they want to modify an organism to heal post-stroke or traumatic brain injury glial scars.
hannhSUN_6444There’s an overall winner and awards are earned for best human practices, best poster, and the like. The main focus on the judging is on individual team performance, so everyone’s work earns praise, not just the “winner.” Most of the fun was saved for the chaotic poster “show.” Humorous titles or double entendres were found everywhere, and a few teams matched their uniforms and display art to complete the visual “package.”

S.O.S: Save Our Shells – Biological sensors that alert Chesapeake Bay oystermen to the presence of pathogens encroaching on fragile oyster beds.

Star (Trek) Peptides, nanomaterials that may develop into cancer treatment and the next generation (pun intended) antibiotics.

Sherlock Coli vs Professor Vibrio Moriarty Cholerae (cholera)

The Lung Ranger: Biological signaling molecules that detect problems for Cystic Fibrosis patients. Identify biological signaling molecules and produce a device that gives home-health nurses fast test results so CF treatment can begin quickly and recovery times cut in half, at considerable savings in health care costs.

Calgary touted a “B.s.” (bacillus subtilis) detector; we didn’t get the details but it could sure make someone a ton of money.

One of the German universities gave an incredible presentation about their work in developing an enzyme that eliminates methane “discharges” from cattle. Think of the value to humanity if it were to work on politicians……………..

*Juan Valdez? His crew, complete with an inflatable burro, has been working hard on a solution for diseases that attack the South American coffee industry. As go coffee plantations, so goes the early-morning productivity of the average North American office worker.