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Thousands of car enthusiasts braved the blustery winter wind earlier this year to visit the Pittsburgh International Auto Show, an event that truly had something for everyone. Some hunted for the KidsZone to get their children intricate balloon animals and some searched for the best French fries, but others made their way to the Green Street area to learn more about ‘greener’ automotive options.

At the end of the long, green carpet in the midst of the latest hybrids, electric and alternative fuel vehicles, stood the Penn State EcoCAR team’s Green Street exhibit. Several engineers and outreach members spent the weekend explaining new technologies, answering questions and describing the EcoCAR competition.

Penn State team members were surprised by how much support they received, even in University of Pittsburgh territory! Many people who visited the exhibit were blown away that college students were capable of designing and implementing such complicated advanced vehicle technologies.

The Penn State team with their vehicle in Yuma, AZ

It was a rewarding experience for students to talk with visitors about Penn State’s vehicle architecture and its similarity with the Chevrolet Volt. With all the recent hype about the Volt, many people were already familiar with the type of extended-range electric vehicle that Penn State has. Countless individuals praised the car’s electric motor with a small backup biodiesel engine, and many predicted that the entire automotive industry will move in this direction soon.

Whether vehicles like Penn State’s EcoCAR will dominate the industry or not, it was encouraging to see the number of people interested in more environmentally friendly transportation. Throughout the weekend, people told the team their stories and explained why they’re making the decision to drive ‘green.’ If the Pittsburgh Auto Show is any indication, American drivers are ready for the vehicles in the EcoCAR competition to move from Green Street to every street!

With the EcoCAR Final Competition just a few short months away, there is no shortage of work to be done. While the engineers were busy making final preparations for emissions testing at the Environmental Protection Agency’s National Vehicle and Fuel Emissions Laboratory, the Penn State outreach team has its own goals to accomplish.

Under the leadership of Penn State’s outreach coordinator, Allison Lilly, outreach team members are constantly brainstorming, planning and implementing events to promote advanced vehicle technologies. Each week there are events on campus, at local schools and in the community that present the opportunity to talk with people ranging from young children to state and federal officials.

Members have also heavily utilized social media and the team website as tools for two-way communication with community leaders and the general public. In addition to that feedback, the outreach team performed market research, which provides invaluable insights into consumers’ views of the automotive industry “going green.”

The Penn State outreach team will push themselves to finish strong during the remaining weeks of the competition. Even though there’s a shortage of time, there’s no shortage of opportunities—at least not for the dedicated members of Penn State EcoCAR.

Check out the video below to see local middle schoolers enjoying a visit from the team!

The President of the United States visited Penn State last month and spoke to a crowd of 3,000 people on the topic of innovation in energy-efficient engineering. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu was also in attendance. In addition to his 20-minute speech, President Obama toured an Architectural Engineering Structures Laboratory with Secretary Chu.

Twenty-five Penn State EcoCAR team members, including engineers, volunteers, faculty advisors and outreach members, attended the President’s speech, and the Penn State Outreach Coordinator, Allison Lilly, had the privilege of shaking his hand!

The Team at President Obama's speech

The President’s speech focused on inspiring Penn State students to meet their potential. He emphasized the need for collegiate competition, saying, “We’re going to have to out-innovate and out-educate and out-build the rest of the world.”

The Penn State EcoCAR team is very familiar with competition and innovation, so President Obama’s speech really resonated. The President focused on clean energy, “because right now, some of the most promising innovation is happening in the area of clean energy technology — technology that is creating jobs, reducing our dependence on foreign oil, and — something that every young person here cares about — making sure our planet is a healthier place to live that we can pass on to future generations.”

Obama called upon college students to try harder, work harder, and research harder – not for the grades, but for the good of our country’s future. “We need you to seek breakthroughs and new technologies that we can’t even imagine yet,” he said.  “And especially the young people who are here, we need you to act with a sense of urgency — to study and work and create as if the fate of the country depends on you – because it does.”

President Obama ended the speech with a message of hope, saying that he believes we will be able to once again set ourselves apart from the rest of the world by harnessing the energy of Penn State students and students across the nation.

The EcoCAR team left the room a little more excited to get back to work, to face their next challenge, and to set themselves apart in this outstanding engineering competition.

Entering the “real world” after four or more years at a college or university can be quite daunting.  Many college seniors share similar thoughts: “Will I find a job that’s right for me?”; “Will I get along with my co-workers?”; “Will I be successful?”

The success that all college seniors try to attain does not come without hard work and dedication to job-related activities during the college years.  Although EcoCAR is a fun and competitive way for engineers to foster their interests, it is also a great “real world” experience that can ultimately lead to excellent career opportunities.

Former Penn State EcoCAR team members Bryan Chambers and Tushar Swamy currently work for A123 Systems, one of the core sponsors of batteries and technical support for the EcoCAR Challenge.  Chambers is presently a mechanical engineer for the company, helping to diagnose problems and improve the design of battery packs for hybrid buses.  Although his role in the drivetrain group did not tie in directly with battery pack work in EcoCAR, Bryan gained other knowledge from taking part in the competition.

“I learned how to work with a large team, how to adapt to sudden changes and how to solve problems that don’t have an answer in the back of the book,” Chambers said.

Tushar Swamy and Bryan Chambers, currently employed by A123 Systems

Tushar Swamy and Bryan Chambers, currently employed by A123 Systems

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This week’s Team Spotlight Video highlights the Penn State EcoCAR team!

Take a look at the video below to see how designing their EcoCAR vehicle has prepared Penn State team members for careers in automotive engineering.

Exposure to General Motors’ (GM) vehicle development process, as well as hands-on experience in vehicle design and integration, has given these students unparalleled training in their field. According to GM mentor Paul Shoytush, “If you want to work in the automotive industry, this is the best way to gain experience and to show the automotive industry what you can do.”

The Penn State vehicle, which uses a series architecture that incorporates B20 fuel into a diesel engine, took home 3rd place at the EcoCAR Year Two Finals, and we can’t wait to see how the team does in Year Three!

As a university student, interacting with someone already in your chosen field is a rewarding experience, and last week, some EcoCAR students did just that.

Five EcoCAR teams spent the week at the National Science Foundation (NSF) Division of Civil, Mechanical and Manufacturing Innovation (CMMI) Research & Innovation Conference in Atlanta – the division of the NSF that has been a long-time sponsor of the DOE Advanced Vehicle Technology Competitions, such as EcoCAR.

Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech, Ohio State, Penn State, and Missouri Science & Technology were at the conference to demonstrate the wealth of knowledge they have obtained through their experiences in EcoCAR and to display vehicles and educational exhibits to the 1,300 attendees in fields ranging from academia to industry and government. Two of the teams, Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech, also showcased their EcoCARs at the conference.

Georgia Tech EcoCAR team members talking to guests at the NSF Conference

Georgia Tech EcoCAR team members talking to guests at the NSF Conference

“The NSF supports EcoCAR because it gives young engineers an opportunity to get some hands-on, real-world  experience in moving a vehicle from a stock vehicle to something far more advanced,” said Dr. Donald Senich, senior advisor of the Innovation and Industrial Partnership at NSF.

“The opportunity at the universities for a diverse group of students to build teams is extremely important in their education. NSF supports the program because it gives students such a unique and practical experience. ”

The NSF conference’s theme this year was Engineering for Sustainability and Prosperity,” and emphasized the role civil, mechanical, industrial, and manufacturing engineers play in addressing the world’s growing challenges of using energy and natural resources in a sustainable manner.

Teams utilized the opportunity to reach out to leaders in innovation and sustainability to talk about how they are addressing those same issues through the EcoCAR competition.

“Our team spent a lot of time over the winter break working on the vehicle so that it would be ready to show at this conference,” said Rachel Dobroth, outreach coordinator for Virginia Tech.  “It’s so rewarding to be able to show the vehicle to engineers and researchers in this field.”

The team leader of the Missouri S&T team, Kevin Martin, believed the NSF conference provided his team with a great opportunity to expand its outreach beyond our campus and Midwest.

“To get the opportunity to see what’s going on in the industry related to sustainability effects and see how vehicles can tie into that is great,” said Martin.

After a successful week at the NSF conference, the five teams feel proud of their accomplishments thus far, and about their experiences interacting and networking with industry leaders.

“I just enjoyed the interaction with the young people, with the individuals from General Motors and the U.S. Department of Energy,” Dr. Senich said. “I think they’ve put together outstanding teams from the organizers’ side and the student side. And I feel like a member of the team.”

EcoCAR Team members at the NSF Conference

EcoCAR Team members at the NSF Conference

In early October, students, faculty and community members banded together to kick off the third year of Penn State EcoCAR and to celebrate National Alternative Fuel Vehicle Day Odyssey, aka Odyssey Day. October is National Energy Awareness Month, so it was the perfect time for the event.

The event was located outside the Larson Transportation Institute on the Penn State campus and highlighted advanced vehicle technologies and alternative fuel vehicles. The Penn State EcoCAR team hosted one of three Odyssey Day events in the state of Pennsylvania. The other two Pennsylvania events were hosted by Philadelphia Clean Cities and Pittsburgh Clean Cities coalitions.

Alongside Penn State’s B20 biodiesel extended-range electric EcoCAR, the Penn State Eco-Marathon team showcased their hydrogen fueled competition vehicle. Penn State EcoCAR worked with Clean Cities of Philadelphia to bring the world’s only propane-powered Dodge Charger all the way from North Carolina for Odyssey Day. TransTech Energy, Inc. made the 400-mile drive to Penn State only on propane!

The propane-powered car from TransTech Energy, Inc.

At the Year Three Kickoff and Odyssey Day event, State College Mayor Elizabeth Goreham praised EcoCAR for bringing together government, industry and academia to create real solutions to today’s automotive and environmental issues. During her speech, she enthusiastically told the crowd about her commitment to the Penn State EcoCAR team in future alternative fuel and advanced vehicle partnerships.  In addition, Dean of Engineering Dr. David Wormley spoke about the impact the Penn State EcoCAR engineers are making in greening the earth and working toward the future of automotive technologies.

State College Mayor Elizabeth Goreham speaking in support of Penn State's EcoCAR team

Members of the Penn State EcoCAR team presented to thirty students in grades eight, nine and ten about the EcoCAR competition as well as types of advanced technology vehicles and alternative fuels. To help them better understand another EcoCAR team’s vehicle architecture, the students built miniature hydrogen fuel cell cars…and then raced them down the hallways!

Students building their miniature hydrogen fuel cell cars

The event’s success is a testament to the Penn State EcoCAR team’s passion for fuel reduction, advanced vehicles and protecting the environment. Many community members said they are excited for what comes next from Penn State’s dedicated, hard-working group of students looking to the future of the automotive world!

Where Are They Now this week highlights Mel Corrigan (previously Mel Fox), a Penn State and Advanced Vehicle Technology Competition (AVTC) alum who has spent her impressive academic career focused on Fuel Science research which ultimately led to her current position working on one of the most exciting innovations in vehicle technology.

Mel Corrigan began her undergraduate studies in chemical engineering at Penn State-Altoona.  Throughout her time at Altoona, she participated in the Society for Automotive Engineering Mini Baja competition.  During her junior year, she moved to the Penn State-University Park campus, where she became involved in undergraduate research studies focusing on diesel exhaust aftertreatment.

While studying at Penn State, Mel interned at Toyota Motor Mfg. in Georgetown, Kentucky in their Facilities Controls Engineering department where she compiled weekly utility consumption reports for the nine plants at the facility.  At that time, Mel also took part in the Energy Team, examining methods of improving energy consumption for vehicle manufacturing processes.

In 2002, Mel obtained her Bachelor of Science degree in chemical engineering at Wayne State University where she worked in an engine lab studying diesel combustion, She also participated in a National Science Foundation (NSF) project to create safety-related exercises for chemical engineering textbooks.

Mel entered graduate school at Penn State in 2003, starting with a Master’s of Science in Fuel Science.  Her research focused on performing three-dimensional computational fluid dynamics of combustion in a coal-fired boiler.

After completing her Master’s degree, Mel decided to continue her studies and obtain her Ph. D. in Fuel Science.  She shifted gears in her research, moving from modeling to experiments and then began studying the effects of intake-induced turbulence on the combustion characteristics of hydrogen assisted natural gas combustion in a spark-ignition engine.

Mel (Fox) Corrigan

Mel became involved with the Penn State Advanced Vehicle Technologies team during Challenge X. During her graduate studies, Mel received a two-year fellowship that required her to do weekly science outreach in K-12 classrooms.  This program, GREATT (Graduate Research and Education in Advanced Transportation Technologies), soon lead her to become the controls team leader for Penn State team in Year Two and the overall team leader during Year Three.

After completing a twelve-week internship in the Powertrain Systems Research group at General Motors during which she lead a project sampling and characterizing particulate matter from diesel combustion, Mel landed her first job with GM.

Mel now works as a Battery System Integration Engineer for the Chevy Volt.  She continues to support advanced vehicle technology competitions and acts as a judge for EcoCAR at workshops and competitions.  EcoCAR is not only thrilled to utilize Mel’s professional expertise, but also grateful to have her perspective as a former competitor as EcoCAR ushers in Year Three.

This week’s Where Are They Now post features Brandon Tarbert, a long-time Advanced Vehicle Technology Competition (AVTC) participant. Starting as an undergraduate at The Pennsylvania State University, Brandon was looking to get involved with things that interested him. He was told as a freshman that the best way to end up in a career he loved was to get involved in an extracurricular activity in college. One evening when Brandon was out with friends, he met the school’s Challenge X team leader and heard all about the competition. Brandon had a nascent interest in hybrid vehicles and clean energy and thought it could be an exciting opportunity.

Starting in Year One, Brandon began working with Penn State’s Advanced Vehicle Technologies (AVT) team to promote Challenge X throughout the campus and to local news media. As the competition progressed, Brandon and the AVT team worked with other sustainable groups around campus to promote sustainable living.

After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in communications from Penn State, Brandon was hired by Sentech, Inc. as a communications analyst for the U. S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Vehicle Technologies Program. At the DOE, Brandon managed communications and web development. He worked with engineers to promote the research and development pursued at the DOE’s national laboratories focused on advanced vehicle technologies. Brandon also supported the logistics, planning, and judging for EcoCAR: The NeXt Challenge.  

Brandon really enjoyed working with the EcoCAR students, but is currently fulfilling a two-year service with the Peace Corps in the Republic of Benin, a country in West Africa. We wish Brandon the best during his service and look forward to his return!

Brandon teaching in West Africa

President Spanier

The Penn State EcoCAR team is proud to share that the Penn State University president, Dr. Graham Spanier, spoke about the team and its efforts at the school’s most recent Board of Trustees meeting. President Spanier spoke highly of the EcoCAR team’s third place finish at the Year Two competition during his informational report. In his remarks, President Spanier said:

“Let me now highlight several initiatives where research meets education. Recently, a car designed by a Penn State student team won third place overall in the 2010 EcoCAR competition sponsored by General Motors and the U.S. Department of Energy. The competition challenged university engineering students to re-engineer a GM-donated vehicle, with goals to improve fuel efficiency and reduce emissions while retaining the vehicle’s performance and consumer appeal. Sixteen teams competed and Penn State’s EcoCAR brought home 10 trophies, including best social media, best AVL driver quality and best technical report.”

President Spanier also spoke about the EcoCAR team at the State of the University Address last September. The Penn State team is thrilled to be recognized so highly by the president of its university. They hope to continue to make Dr. Spanier and the rest of our university proud in Year Three!

The PSU EcoCAR team at the Year Two Finals

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May 2020