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APSU physics students building 'green' race car


APSU physics students Elijah Jensen and John Walker discuss the half-scale prototype race car frame they designed and built. The next step is to build the full-scale formula SAE race car. (Photo by Amber Fair/APSU).

The other day, Austin Peay State University physics student Elijah Jensen took out his cell phone to show a picture of his car. The hood was up in the photo, exposing an engine in pieces.

“That’s my car’s engine on Saturday,” he said. “I had to take the whole thing apart to fix one little piece. I’m very into fixing my own car, but fixing a car is a lot different than building a car.”

But since last September, that’s exactly what Jensen has been doing – designing and building a car. He enlisted the help of fellow physics student John Walker, and, using NASA Tennessee Space Grant money, the two hope to ultimately create an electric, Formula Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) race car that they can take to compete against other college students around the country.

“They’ve got a lot of engineering done,” Dr. Justin Oelgoetz, associate professor of physics, said. “They’re about to start recruiting a larger group to help build it. They’ve competed a lot of prototyping. Once we get past a few hurdles, we’ll be ordering a lot of steel and an insane amount of batteries, and they’re going to start putting together a car.”

Jensen, who plans to attend graduate school in electrical engineering next fall, came up with the idea last year to build a small, go-cart type electric vehicle. But then he heard about the Formula SAE series, which is an international student design competition, with college students building their own cars to race competitively.

“It’s always been a dream of mine to do electric car engineering,” he said. “So I came up with the idea of maybe building a small prototype. I was talking with a friend of mine, another physics tutor, and he said, ‘you should talk to Dr. Oelgoetz about it.’”

Because of the project’s “green” focus on electric vehicles, Oelgoetz thought it would be a perfect fit for the NASA grant. Austin Peay is part of the Tennessee Space Grant Consortium, which provides funding for student projects such as this.

After getting the green light from Oelgoetz, Jensen approached Walker, a physics student interested in mechanical engineering, about the project. Since September, the two have worked at designing the small race car. The completed vehicle will be a 19-horsepower race car, capable of reaching 80 miles per hour.

On a laptop computer, Walker pointed to a rendering of the proposed vehicle.

“I have previous car knowledge, and I’m using that to help design it. I’m trying to finish up the actual mechanical part, I’m trying to trim this down,” he said, pointing to the screen, “and then make it more aerodynamic.”

The two students hope to get a prototype built and running by May, in time for Jensen’s graduation. Then, he hopes to join another Formula SAE group wherever he attends graduate school and face-off against other APSU students at next year’s race.

“For next year the goal would be to go to enter it in competitions,” he said.

 For more information, contact the APSU Department of Physics at 221-6116.