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Thursday, May 4, 2006
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Ohio University mechanical engineering students get behind the wheel of energy conservation

ATHENS, Ohio (May 4, 2006) -- On Saturday, May 6, from 10 a.m. to noon, three groups of Ohio University mechanical engineering seniors will be rip roarin' across West Green as part of the 2006 Ohio University Mechanical Engineering Senior Design Competition.

The groups, made up of 16 Russ College students, have each designed an energy-appropriate personal campus transporter ? a "campus-centered" personal transportation vehicle designed to reduce the use of buses, cars and petroleum-fueled small utility vehicles on campus. The project is part of their senior "capstone" course, which challenges them to design, construct and evaluate the performance of an actual engineering system.

The design competition requires each student to drive the team's vehicle around a 3,300-foot course that winds through the West Green and involves varying road conditions, hills, accelerations and stops. There will also be a usability test in which members of the mechanical engineering departmental advisory board, other students and community members are invited to attempt to start up the vehicles, drive them at slow speeds and comment on their ease of use, comfort and "fun factor."

The students selected this project because it addresses a current societal need, according to Gregory Kremer, associate professor of mechanical engineering and instructor of the senior capstone class.

"The current campus transportation options use a significant amount of petroleum fuel," Kremer said, "and an alternative powered campus-based vehicle has the potential to increase awareness of alternative technologies and make it more likely that students would be open to purchasing alternative powered vehicles when they graduate."

The primary criterion for the test will be fuel/energy use. The personal vehicles must be safe and environmentally friendly (with appropriate use of energy), must provide some weather protection to allow intra-campus travel in rain and moderate temperature extremes and must address campus issues of parking/storage, cost and reliability.

Each prototype will also undergo a five-MPH impact test. The vehicles will be driven into the traffic barriers in front of the Stocker Center in a simulated head-on collision.  Performance will be judged based on observation of the effect of each collision on the functionality of the cart and the safety of the operator (who will be wearing a helmet and other safety gear).

In addition to being a fun experience, the competition is an important project for the students because they learn many lessons by building and testing the prototypes that they wouldn't learn in the classroom. "In learning design," Kremer said, "there is no substitute for actually building and testing your paper design and having to deal with the manufacturing issues caused by your design decisions."

Plus, how many classes let students build a vehicle, race it around campus and then crash it in front of their building? This is just one of the benefits of studying engineering.

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Media Contact:  Russ College Director of External Relations Colleen Girton, (740)593-1488 or girtonc@ohio.edu, or Media Specialist Jack Jeffery, (740) 597-1793 or jefferyj@ohio.edu

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