WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — A Purdue University entomologist will speak Thursday (Sept. 20) about research efforts to breed hardier, parasite-resistant honeybees in North America and Europe at the next Science on Tap.
Honeybee specialist Greg Hunt, a professor of behavioral genetics and author, will speak at 6:00pm in the upstairs of the Lafayette Brewing Company, 622 Main St., Lafayette. His talk is titled “What’s Bugging our Bees? Bee Health, Parasitic Mites and Breeding for Hardy, Resistant Bees.”
The event is free and open to those 21 and older. Sponsors for the talk are the Purdue Department of Entomology, the College of Agriculture and Discovery Park.
“There has been a lot of talk in recent years about ‘colony collapse disorder’ killing beehives. Researchers and beekeepers are still unsure what caused this and how big a problem it may be,” Hunt said. “Recent surveys indicate that parasitic Varroa mites are the biggest single factor associated with the death of bee colonies in both North America and Europe.”
Hunt and his fellow Purdue researchers are investigating how to breed bees that are more mite-resistant. The research team is collaborating with Indiana beekeepers in a breeding program to select for “mite-biting” bees and the team has been investigating the genetics behind this trait.
“We identified one chromosomal region influencing this grooming behavior,” he said. “One gene that might be involved has been linked to specific neurological diseases in humans.”
According to Hunt, the United States is losing about one-third of its honeybee hives each year. No one factor is to blame, but Hunt said scientists think others such as mites and insecticides are working against the bees, which are important for pollinating food crops and wild plants.
The official bee population in Indiana is well over 10,000 hives and each hive holds anywhere from 30,000 to 60,000 bees, he said.
Hunt, who has been on the Purdue faculty since 2002, received his bachelor’s degree in biology from John Carroll University in 1979, a master’s degree in plant pathology from Pennsylvania State University and a doctorate degree in entomology from the University of California, Davis, in 1994.
The Science on Tap lecture series, led by Purdue graduate students Patrick Dolan, Shaili Sharma and Becca Scott, provides Purdue faculty and collaborating researchers the opportunity to share research activities in an informal setting, with presentations that are designed to appeal to a more general audience.
Attendance at the monthly event has averaged 80 during the program’s first two years.
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — 2011 will go down in history as one of the deadliest and most destructive years for tornado disasters.
Jeff Trapp, a Purdue University researcher with expertise in understanding how tornadoes form and what’s driving the increase in their volatility, will be the featured speaker at the next Science on Tap event August 25th, in downtown Lafayette. His talk is titled, “Understanding, Predicting and Responding to Tornadoes.”
“The current year has brought to the forefront a number of outstanding issues regarding the occurrence of tornadoes,” Trapp said. “Particularly exposed has been our lack of understanding of the controls of the seasonal and longer-term variations of tornadoes.”
To set the stage for his Science on Tap talk, Trapp will summarize what is known about how a tornado forms. From there, he will discuss the human response to a tornado and whether this can be modified to mitigate its impact.
So far this year, the tornado death toll is 546, including 364 in April and another 177 in May, generally the two busiest months for twisters. In the May 22 tornado that devastated Joplin, Mo., 151 people were killed. Overall, this year ranks fourth in tornado fatalities, still well behind the record 794 deaths in 1925.
The National Weather Service reports that there have been an estimated 1,475 tornadoes so far this year, and the current record of 1,817 tornadoes was set in 2004. The overall yearly average number of tornadoes for the past decade is 1,274.
Trapp was one of the principal investigators of the second Verification of the Origins of Rotation in Tornadoes Experiment, or VORTEX 2, field study in 2009. The $9 million project, funded by the National Science Foundation and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, focused on ways to improve tornado warnings and how to better understand why they occur as part of the largest tornado and storm field study in history.
The study involved scientists from 14 universities and institutions for sampling super cell thunderstorms and tornadoes that form over the Great Plains of the United States. Trapp also was involved in the first VORTEX study in 1994 and 1995.
During VORTEX2, Trapp’s research group and other Purdue students helped field the Doppler on Wheels, or DOWs. The DOWs are mobile weather radars designed to capture data underneath and within super cell thunderstorms and tornadoes. Trapp’s group is using the DOW data to improve the accuracy of the tornado record and to develop methods to better use available weather data for predicting a tornado.
In a 2007 study published in the journal, “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences,” Trapp suggested that because of global warming, locations could see as much as a 100 percent increase in the number of days that favor severe thunderstorms and tornadoes by the end of the 21st century. “The densely populated regions of the South and East, including New York City and Atlanta, could be especially hard-hit,” he said in the study.
Sponsors for Trapp’s Science on Tap talk are Discovery Park and Purdue’s College of Science along with the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, which is providing funding for food at the event.
Science on Tap, led by Purdue graduate student Patrick Dolan and postdoctoral students John Paderi and Kate Stuart, provides faculty from Purdue the opportunity to share their research activities in an informal setting, touching on subjects and providing presentations that are designed to appeal to a more general audience.
Attendance at the monthly event has averaged 80 during the program’s first year.
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Nature enthusiasts can learn about butterflies and how to photograph them at the annual Tippecanoe County Butterfly Encounter on July 16 at Prophetstown State Park.
Purdue’s Department of Entomology and Evonik Degussa Corp. Tippecanoe Laboratories are sponsors of the Butterfly Encounter, which begins at 10 a.m. Participants should meet at the Coneflower Recreation Building at the state park, 5545 Swisher Road, West Lafayette.
“The Encounter is a family-friendly event celebrating the beauty and diversity of Indiana butterflies,” said Melissa Shepson, outreach coordinator for Purdue entomology. “No previous butterfly knowledge is necessary.”
In the morning there will be a photography workshop led by Gene White, a photography consultant specializing in insect images. Afterward, there will be an hour of practice for photographers of skill levels of novice and intermediate.
Reni Winter of Winterhaven Wildflowers, an expert on monarch butterflies, will lead a class titled “How to Plant a Butterfly Garden.” She will discuss how to create butterfly habitat using native plants.
A picnic lunch sponsored by Evonik will be served at noon, followed by a butterfly identification tutorial during which Purdue Extension entomologists will talk about butterfly biology and the importance of habitat biodiversity. Participants will break into groups in the afternoon for butterfly appreciation walks on the grounds of the state park.
In previous years, the event had been held at Evonik’s Tippecanoe Labs Wildlife Habitat. But because of construction there, it was moved to Prophetstown, Shepson said.
In the event of bad weather, the Encounter will be canceled.
For more information, contact Shepson at 765-494-0997, firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the Butterfly Encounter home page at http://www.entm.purdue.edu/butterflycount/event.html
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — One of the peskiest household pests, while disastrous to homes, could prove to be a boon for cars, according to a Purdue University study.
Mike Scharf, the O. Wayne Rollins/Orkin Chair in Molecular Physiology and Urban Entomology, said his laboratory has discovered a cocktail of enzymes from the guts of termites that may be better at getting around the barriers that inhibit fuel production from woody biomass. The Scharf Laboratory found that enzymes in termite guts are instrumental in the insects’ ability to break down the wood they eat.
The findings, published in the early online version of the journal PLoS One, are the first to measure the sugar output from enzymes created by the termites themselves and the output from symbionts, small protozoa that live in termite guts and aid in digestion of woody material.
“For the most part, people have overlooked the host termite as a source of enzymes that could be used in the production of biofuels. For a long time it was thought that the symbionts were solely responsible for digestion,” Scharf said. “Certainly the symbionts do a lot, but what we’ve shown is that the host produces enzymes that work in synergy with the enzymes produced by those symbionts. When you combine the functions of the host enzymes with the symbionts, it’s like one plus one equals four.”
Scharf and his research partners separated the termite guts, testing portions that did and did not contain symbionts on sawdust to measure the sugars created.
Once the enzymes were identified, Scharf and his team worked with Chesapeake Perl, a protein production company in Maryland, to create synthetic versions. The genes responsible for creating the enzymes were inserted into a virus and fed to caterpillars, which then produce large amounts of the enzymes. Tests showed that the synthetic versions of the host termite enzymes also were very effective at releasing sugar from the biomass.
They found that the three synthetic enzymes function on different parts of the biomass.
Two enzymes are responsible for the release of glucose and pentose, two different sugars. The other enzyme breaks down lignin, the rigid compound that makes up plant cell walls.
Lignin is one of the most significant barriers that blocks the access to sugars contained in biomass. Scharf said it’s possible that the enzymes derived from termites and their symbionts, as well as synthetic versions, could be more effective at removing that lignin barrier.
Sugars from plant material are essential to creating biofuels. Those sugars are fermented to make products such as ethanol.
“We’ve found a cocktail of enzymes that create sugars from wood,” Scharf said. “We were also able to see for the first time that the host and the symbionts can synergistically produce these sugars.”
Next, Scharf said his laboratory and collaborators would work on identifying the symbiont enzymes that could be combined with termite enzymes to release the greatest amount of sugars from woody material. Combining those enzymes would increase the amount of biofuel that should be available from biomass.
The U.S. Department of Energy and Chesapeake Perl funded the research.
Tuesday, July 12th, 2011
6:00p-8:00p @ K. Dees Coffee & Roasting Co.
1016 Main Street, Lafayette, IN
Termites are a disaster in our homes, but they may be an important factor in developing next-generation biofuels. Dr. Mike Scharf will discuss his research into the enzymes that allow termites to digest wood, and how those enzymes may help break down the walls that stand in the way of turning woody biomass into fuels.
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Purdue University students shattered the Guinness World Record for the largest Rube Goldberg machine ever with a 244-step juggernaut that destroys the planet several times over before restoring hope by watering and growing a flower.
The Purdue Society of Professional Engineers’ “Time Machine” traces world history from the Big Bang to an Apocalypse triggered by the Four Horsemen: Bob Barker, Dirty Harry, Darth Vader, and Woody the “Toy Story” cowboy. Along the way, the world is humorously destroyed by a meteor, an ice age, the Great Flood, world war and alien invasion.
“If Bruce Willis, Will Smith and Charlton Heston joined forces to build a Rube Goldberg machine, this is what it might look like,” quipped Zach Umperovitch, captain of a team that has won three national championships and set two world records in the past seven years. “Of course, those guys wouldn’t be as crazy as we are to invest 3,500 hours to accomplish a task a toddler can do in mere seconds.”
Rube Goldberg’s granddaughter Jennifer George praised the Purdue machine while attending the 2011 Rube Goldberg Machine Contest. George recently inherited the responsibility to keep alive the wry, whimsical spirit of her Pulitzer Prize-winning grandfather. His whacky cartoon machines designed to accomplish everyday tasks in convoluted but ingenious ways remain seared in pop culture lexicon.
“The Purdue contraption spoke to his humor the most,” said George. “You have a smile on your face from the moment you walk in here.”
Purdue’s machine documents monumental human endeavors such as erecting the pyramids and flying to the moon and more frustrating modern “accomplishments” such as the LP record and Microsoft Windows.
The machine is a YouTube hit and included in an episode of “Modern Marvels.” Past machines have been featured on “Jimmy Kimmel Live”, David Letterman, ABC’s “Good Morning America,” NBC’s “Today,” CBS’s “Early Show,” and CNN.
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — A leading international researcher at Purdue University who has studied how psychedelic drugs act in the brain is the featured speaker at the next Science on Tap event Thursday (May 19) in downtown Lafayette.
David E. Nichols, the Robert C. and Charlotte P. Anderson Distinguished Chair in Pharmacology, will speak at 6 p.m. in the upstairs of the Lafayette Brewing Company, 622 Main St., in downtown Lafayette. His talked is titled, “Psychedelics 1943-2011: Boon or Bane?”
The Science on Tap event is free and open to the public to those ages 21 or older.
“Timothy Leary, the summer of love and the turbulent 1960s were fuel for a media frenzy that presented psychedelics only as dangerous mind-bending drugs of abuse,” said Nichols, who has studied psychedelic drugs for more than 40 years. “Of course, they are not substances to fool around with. But they have the potential to tell us a lot about how the mind works and potentially to provide new cures for psychiatric disorders that presently are intractable.”
In his research, Nichols makes chemicals similar to ecstasy and LSD that are supposed to help explain how parts of the brain function. He then publishes the results for other scientists in academic journals, hoping the work leads to treatments for depression or Parkinson’s disease.
But for years, Nichols has found himself in an ethical dilemma because of the overdose-related deaths that have stemmed from those who hijack his work to make cheap and marginally legal recreational street drugs.
In the past year, the 66-year-old Purdue professor has been speaking out about the ethical struggle stemming from his work as a brain researcher.
“It seems there are people out there willing to try just about anything to get high,” Nichols said.
His research concentrates on the basic neurochemical serotonin. Nichols estimates that at least five of his compounds – out of hundreds he has developed over four decades – have been turned into street drugs.
Since he began his graduate studies in 1969, Nichols has focused on how the structure of a molecule affects its biological activity. He has published more than 280 scientific papers and has been invited to present seminars at numerous national and international meetings.
Sponsors for Nichols’ Science on Tap talk are Discovery Park, Purdue’s College of Pharmacy, and the Department of Medicinal Chemistry and Molecular Pharmacology, which is providing funding for food at the event.
Science on Tap, led by Purdue postdoctoral students John Paderi, Patrick Dolan and Kate Stuart, provides faculty from Purdue the opportunity to share their research activities in an informal setting, touching on subjects and providing presentations that are designed to appeal to a more general audience. Attendance at the monthly event has averaged 80 during the program’s first year.
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Spicing up your daily diet with some red pepper can curb appetite, especially for those who don’t normally eat the popular spice, according to research from Purdue University.
“We found that consuming red pepper can help manage appetite and burn more calories after a meal, especially for individuals who do not consume the spice regularly,” said Richard Mattes, distinguished professor of foods and nutrition who collaborated with doctoral student Mary-Jon Ludy. “This finding should be considered a piece of the puzzle because the idea that one small change will reverse the obesity epidemic is simply not true. However, if a number of small changes are added together, they may be meaningful in terms of weight management. Dietary changes that don’t require great effort to implement, like sprinkling red pepper on your meal, may be sustainable and beneficial in the long run, especially when paired with exercise and healthy eating.”
Other studies have found that capsaicin, the component that gives chili peppers their heat, can reduce hunger and increase energy expenditure – burning calories. The amounts tested, however, were not realistic for most people in the U. S. population, Mattes said.
The current study measured the spice’s effects using quantities of red pepper – 1 gram or half a teaspoon – that are acceptable for many consumers. Other studies also have looked at consumption via a capsule, but Ludy and Mattes’ study demonstrated that tasting the red pepper may optimize its effects. The findings are published in Physiology & Behavior.
This study used ordinary dried, ground cayenne red pepper. Cayenne is a chili pepper, which is among the most commonly consumed spices in the world. Most, but not all, chili peppers contain capsaicin.
Twenty-five non-overweight people – 13 who liked spicy food and 12 who did not – participated in the six-week study. The preferred level of pepper for each group was determined in advance, and those who did not like red pepper preferred 0.3 grams compared to regular spice users who preferred 1.8 grams. In general, red pepper consumption did increase core body temperature and burn more calories through natural energy expenditure.
This study found that those who did not consume red pepper regularly experienced a decrease of hunger, especially for fatty, salty and sweet foods.
“The appetite responses were different between those who liked red pepper and those who did not, suggesting that when the stimulus is unfamiliar it has a greater effect. Once it becomes familiar to people, it loses its efficacy. The finding that there is a difference between users and non-users is novel and requires further study to determine how long it will be effective and how to adjust the diet to improve continuous effectiveness.”
The failure to account for individual differences in liking the burn of chili peppers may explain why some previous studies varied on capsaicin’s impact on appetite suppression and thermogenic response, which is an increase in body heat produced when digesting food.
Mattes said the findings also show that red pepper should be consumed in non-capsule form because the taste – the sensory experience – maximizes the digestive process.
“That burn in your mouth is responsible for that effect,” he said. “It turns out you get a more robust effect if you include the sensory part because the burn contributes to a rise in body temperature, energy expenditure and appetite control.”
Mattes, who specializes in taste and directs Purdue’s Ingestive Behavior Research Center, studies the role taste plays in feeding and digestion.
“Taste works on two very different levels,” he said. “First, it determines the palatability of foods, and that influences food choice. Second, it influences physiology, so it alters how you digest foods and the efficiency with which you absorb the nutrients from them and use them throughout the body.”
The study was funded by the National Institutes of Health under the Ruth Kirschstein National Research Service Award and by the McCormick Science Institute.
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — In Steve Hallett’s new book “Life Without Oil: Why We Must Shift to a New Energy Future,” the Purdue University plant scientist tackles the world’s energy problems from a different perspective – that of an ecologist.
Hallett, an associate professor in Purdue’s Department of Botany and Plant Pathology, argues that energy is the driver of our society’s success and that the loss of abundant supplies of oil will significantly impact all facets of society.
“You tend to hear about oil from oil guys and plants from plant guys. And that makes perfect sense. What you don’t get is the connections among those fields,” said Hallett, who authored the book with Jon Wright, a journalist who has extensively covered energy issues. “Making connections is what ecologists do.”
In an admittedly pessimistic view of the world’s energy issues, Hallett argues that throughout history all societies have collapsed, usually from the loss of a necessary resource. For our current society, that resource could be oil.
“We have a couple of choices: We either collapse, or we shift to something else,” Hallett said.
A graph in the book shows the use of oil for energy as a large spike that began its ascent about a century ago and reaches its final descent about a century from now. That spike, Hallett said, is like an ecological input. The upward portion of the spike has advanced society rapidly, while the downward may create a difficult future.
Energy-rich oil has improved our ability to produce more food, both agriculturally and through fishing, for example. That has led to a rapid growth in world population, which necessitates more oil to keep people fed. That oil, Hallett said, is causing spikes in carbon emissions, which is a factor in climate change.
“You can see the sudden explosion of positive and negative through the same window,” Hallett said. “The bigger our economy gets, the faster we use fossil fuels and the faster we run out.”
Hallett believes the world has reached its peak in oil production – give or take a decade – and is heading into an oil decline. The world will either have to significantly cut energy use or find an alternative source.
Hallett also discourages the belief that human ingenuity will create a solution. He said the difficult truth is that the world can’t continue growing, either physically or economically, and expect to survive.
“We’re constantly faced with these intractable problems, and we usually find the answer in more of something. We’ve come to the point where that won’t work,” Hallett said. “We’ve filled up the world with enough people, exhausted too many of its resources, and we need to settle into a lifestyle where we don’t feel the need for constant progress and growth. You can’t grow forever. We will reach limits, and the book argues that we are reaching those limits.
“There are some things that just run out and cannot be replaced, and oil is one of them.”
“Life Without Oil: Why We Must Shift to a New Energy Future
” was released in March by Prometheus Books. It retails for $26 and is available through most bookstores and online booksellers.
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Three Purdue University researchers who gained national attention for their study of head injuries suffered by high school football players will speak as part of a team presentation at Thursday’s (April 21) Science on Tap event in downtown Lafayette.
Professors Eric Nauman, Thomas Talavage and Larry Leverenz will give the presentation, “Can We Play Football Safely? Lessons Learned From Studying High School Football Players,” at 6 p.m. in the upstairs of the Lafayette Brewing Company, 622 Main St., in Lafayette.
The Science on Tap event is free and open to the public to those ages 21 or older. Event sponsors are Discovery Park and Purdue’s Schools of Mechanical Engineering, Electrical and Computer Engineering, and Health and Kinesiology.
“This high-profile work by Purdue researchers helped shine the spotlight on the concussion issue for high school, college and professional football players, resulting in a Sports Illustrated cover story in November,” said event co-organizer Kate Stuart, a Purdue postdoctoral biomedical engineering researcher. “This also will be Science on Tap’s first team of speakers, a fitting way to celebrate the first anniversary of this popular community lecture series.”
Nauman is an associate professor of mechanical engineering and an expert in central nervous system and musculoskeletal trauma, and Leverenz is an expert in athletic training and a clinical professor of health and kinesiology. Talavage, an expert in functional neuroimaging, is an associate professor of biomedical engineering and electrical and computer engineering and co-director of the Purdue MRI Facility
The study by the Purdue researchers, published in the Journal of Neurotrauma last October, suggests that some high school football players suffer undiagnosed changes in brain function and continue playing even though they are impaired.
The team of researchers screened and monitored 21 football players at Jefferson High School in Lafayette, Ind. The athletes wore helmets equipped with six sensors called accelerometers, which relay data wirelessly to equipment on the sidelines during each play.
Impact data from each player were compared with brain-imaging scans and cognitive tests performed before, during and after the season. The researchers also shot video of each play to record and study how the athletes sustained impacts.
The Purdue researchers identified 11 players who either were diagnosed by a physician as having a concussion, received an unusually high number of impacts to the head, or received an unusually hard impact. Of those 11 players, three were diagnosed with concussions during the course of the season, four showed no changes and four showed changes in brain function.
Researchers evaluated players using a GE Healthcare Signa HDx 3.0T MRI to conduct a type of brain imaging called functional magnetic resonance imaging, or fMRI, along with a computer-based neurocognitive screening test.
Science on Tap, led by Purdue postdoctoral students John Paderi, Patrick Dolan and Stuart, provides faculty from Purdue the opportunity to share their research activities in an informal setting, touching on subjects and providing presentations that are designed to appeal to a more general audience. Attendance at the monthly event has averaged 80 during the program’s first year.
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — A team of Purdue University students has designed and built a new solar car that will compete this month in the 2011 Shell Eco-marathon Americas.
The Shell Eco-marathon Americas, April 14-17 in Houston, is an international contest for college and high school students to design and build the most fuel-efficient vehicles.
The Purdue Solar Racing team has won the Eco-marathon’s solar-car category the last three years, achieving the equivalent of 4,913 miles per gallon, the most ever recorded at the event. Purdue’s team has driven a car called Pulsar since 2008 and unveiled a new car, Celeritas, during an April 1 banquet.
Celeritas will compete in the solar “urban concept” category, which is more difficult than the prototype category Pulsar competed in because vehicles must be designed for practical use on public roads and highways, said Ted Pesyna (pronounced Peseena), president of Purdue Solar Racing.
“It’s the team’s first four-wheel car in recent years and the first urban concept vehicle,” he said. “We’ve always focused on making vehicles that are optimized for efficiency – very small, slim vehicles that tend to look more like an airfoil than a conventional vehicle. Celeritas is different than any car we have ever designed. Our focus is not only on maximizing efficiency but also usability and aesthetics. It’s a vehicle the consumer could see themselves driving.”
The single-seat vehicle has a cruising speed of 30-40 mph and a top speed of about 60 mph.
About 50 undergraduate students are working on the project in teams focusing on the car’s carbon-fiber body; the propulsion, braking and suspension systems; as well as critical business, marketing and fundraising functions.
“The car will end up costing about $100,000 to design and build, so the team focuses on marketing and relies heavily on the support of our sponsors,” said Pesyna, a mechanical engineering senior from Carmel, Ind.
Major project sponsors are Lockheed Martin Corp.; Exelon Nuclear Corp.; Tyco Electronics; Airtech; Purdue’s schools of Mechanical Engineering, Aeronautics and Astronautics, Electrical and Computer Engineering and Materials Engineering; Purdue Libraries; and the Office of the Provost. A list of corporate sponsors is available at http://www.purduesolar.org/sponsors/
The solar-car effort provides valuable experience because it is organized like engineering teams in industry, said Galen King, a Purdue professor of mechanical engineering and an adviser to the group.
“It’s really invaluable experience for the students,” he said. “They design and build the vehicle, see their mistakes and see what they did well. They also work in a multidisciplinary team-oriented structure much like a corporate environment, where communication is important between various parts of the overall team.”
The work is entirely voluntary – the students receive no course credits – and contains an outreach component, with project members giving presentations in public schools and at events throughout the state and across the country.
“You have to give the students high praise for this project,” said Purdue Provost Timothy D. Sands. “They handle the demands of a rigorous degree program while pursuing an ambitious solar-car project, all in the interests of learning and career goals.”
Purdue students have been designing and building solar cars since 1991 and have completed eight vehicles since then.
Work on Celeritas began about two years ago. The car weighs about 275 pounds, is made primarily of a lightweight material of carbon-fiber sheets sandwiched around a honeycomb center to add strength. More than 200 photovoltaic cells convert sunlight into electricity to charge 48 lithium iron phosphate batteries, which then power a motor that drives one of the rear wheels.
The car’s electrical systems are among the most innovative aspect of the vehicle, said Brian Thompson, vice president of Purdue Solar Racing.
“The electronics in this car are drastically different than any other car we’ve built,” said Thompson, a mechanical engineering junior from Evansville, Ind., with a minor in electrical engineering. “It’s the first car we’ve designed to be computer controlled.”
The vehicle has an ultra-efficient electric motor and high-level computer logic embedded in many components. This electronic intelligence makes it possible for the driver to change cruise control and other settings on the fly to maximize performance. A battery management and protection system ensures that the lithium iron phosphate cells operate properly and don’t overheat or explode, and logic circuits relay diagnostic data to a laptop computer monitored remotely by the team, Thompson said.
About 80 teams will compete in the solar-car race, coming from universities and high schools in the United States, Canada, Mexico and Brazil. Because the Shell Eco-marathon Americas is held in Houston, the design must take the urban landscape into consideration, Pesyna said.
“There are a lot of skyscrapers, which cast shadows, so we created models of where the shadows are at certain times of day around downtown Houston.”
The car’s design was tested in a wind tunnel.
“Tests verified our computer results showing we had a pretty low drag coefficient,” Pesyna said. “This is difficult to do because maximizing the number of solar cells compromises the aerodynamics of the vehicle, so you have to properly balance the two.”
Pulsar was a three-wheel vehicle designed to achieve the most efficiency at the expense of practicality. The driver sat in a reclined position a few inches from the road surface. The car weighed about 170 pounds and had a top speed of 25 mph. The four-wheel Celeritas, Latin for swiftness, is designed more like an ordinary car, with the driver sitting upright. The car, which was designed and built from scratch, has only a driver’s seat.
Also leading the Purdue solar-car project are Rachel Bodien, secretary and a sophomore in aeronautical engineering; Zack Lapetina, treasurer and sophomore in aeronautical engineering; Sam Schreiber, marketing director and a junior in computer graphics technology; Justin Krull, aeronautics team director and a junior in aeronautical engineering, Zach Smith, electrical team director and a junior in electrical engineering; Bradley Weiler, mechanical team director and a junior in mechanical engineering; John Padgett, safety director and a junior in mechanical engineering; and Kenneth Roush, special projects director and a sophomore in aeronautical engineering.
John Nyenhuis, a professor of electrical and computer engineering, also is an adviser.