What You Need to Design an Electric Car for EcoCAR3
Shawn Wasserman posted on April 29, 2015 |
PhD candidate talks car design and gender gaps.

Shawn Wasserman: Hi, I'm Shawn Wasserman, Education Editor at ENGINEERING.com, and I'm here with Megan Cawley, a PhD student from Arizona State University.

So can you tell me a little bit about this car here?

Megan Cawley: This is a 2015 Chevrolet Camaro, actually, that was donated to us for the showcase. But, we are part of a student project at Arizona State University, that is part of a North American collegiate competition for 16 different schools to turn the Chevrolet Camaro into a hybrid-electric vehicle.

Shawn Wasserman: Perfect, so how are you going to go about doing that?

Megan Cawley: Actually, this first year is all design. It's a four-year competition.

In December, we get the car and start building, but this year we're selecting our architecture. Which type of hybrid vehicle would we like to build? Do we want to build a series? Do we want to build a parallel? Do we want to build a Through-the-Road?

We're picking what's going to work best for us for it to be a performance vehicle still, because it's a Camaro, and for it also to be efficient.

I know our team is looking most heavily at a parallel vehicle, just because of integration or packaging. There's not a lot of space in the car to put in a new engine and an electric motor, and other things like that.

A series is not necessarily as fast, because you're limited by the top speed of an electric motor, so it’s probably not great for a performance vehicle in that configuration.

Parallel Through-the-Road would be great all wheel drive, lots of power, but again, really hard to put in the car. Where are you going to put everything?

Shawn Wasserman: Which design tools are you using?

Megan Cawley: We set team goals for ourselves for what we're trying to meet past the competition requirements. So the competition sets the minimum of what you have to hit to build the vehicle, and we set our team goals past that—you don't want to just hit the minimum, right?

And then from there, we have MathWorks software that we're using to model the stock Camaro, and then model the different architectures that we're using.

We also have a program called AUTONOMIE, which is from Argonne National Labs. It's software that has a lot of pre-built types of vehicles—hybrid vehicles, standard vehicles and things like that—that models a lot of it for you. And then you set up all the systems, and it'll tell you zero to 60 times, and the efficiency, and all of those different things.

And then we have NX. Right now in NX we're sticking with basic SpaceClaim, so our team is working on modeling the new components that we're getting—all of the specific details.

And we’re working on mounting structures. How they would fit in the car. Will they fit? What if there are interferences? What can be modified? Just basically looking at, "Is it something that's safe to modify for the first part? Is it a huge structural part of the car? Can we modify it?"

And then once they are done looking at that, "Okay, can we modify it?" We'll start designing new mounting structures, and running meshes and finite element analysis on the different mounting structures that we design, and the welds, and things like that.

Shawn Wasserman: What's your favorite part of the competition so far?

Megan Cawley: I'm a PhD student in Mechanical Engineering, but I am a PhD student because I want to be a professor. So I love what it teaches students. I love seeing how much people learn and how much they can grow, and what you can really get out of it.

Because it's not just “build a piece of a car,” it’s “build a whole car.”

And I personally like seeing the models, and estimating what the car's going to do, and how it's going to behave, and how it's going to react, and the efficiency and things like that. And then down the road, we get to see, "Were we right? Did we do it right?"

Shawn Wasserman: That's really good, that you decide to go on to become a professor. Could you talk to us, maybe about the gender gap within STEM education?

Megan Cawley: Certainly, especially in mechanical you see a lot more men than you see women. Across engineering in general, across math and science, you see a lot more men than women, and it's a gap that exists, but I think it's one that's shrinking.

I don't know the national statistics, or anything like that. But, I found that in graduate school, I find a lot of women in a lot of places, in a lot of fields—which is great, that they're pursuing higher education. And they're maybe going on to be professors or to be researchers, and inspire other women to become engineers.

You know, I grew up around cars, so I always liked it. I always liked taking stuff apart and putting it back together, and I always liked math. It's starting from a young age. A lot of girls like math, but they don't see a lot of women in it.

So I think it's just getting those role models out there; getting professors and teachers that say, "This is for you. This is for math. This is science. This is engineering. This is what you like. Do it, pursue it, do what you love."

Shawn Wasserman: Well, good on you in becoming one of those role models.

Megan Cawley: That is the goal. I hope so.

Shawn Wasserman: My name is Shawn Wasserman.  I’m the Education Editor of ENGINEERING.com.  I’m with Megan Cawley from Arizona State University.

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