March 2000

News about Science, Technology and Engineering at Iowa State University

On the road to lighter vehicles
A material developed at the U.S. Department of Energy's Ames Laboratory at Iowa State University may steer automotive companies toward their goal of lighter, more fuel-efficient vehicles. Researchers say a 0.25-inch-thick ring of the material could be used in an electronic torque sensor to regulate the steering power provided to a car's wheels by an electric motor. This would allow automakers to eliminate the heavy, energy-draining hydraulic pumps currently used in power-steering systems.

"Replacing the hydraulic power-steering system with an electrical system that uses this type of sensor should improve the fuel efficiency of a car by about 5 percent," said David Jiles, an Ames Lab senior physicist and an ISU professor of materials science and engineering.

The researchers developed a composite consisting of cobalt-ferrite (a compound of cobalt oxide and iron oxide) and small amounts of nickel and silver to hold the material together. Cobalt ferrite meets the temperature and strength criteria for the torque sensor application and costs a fraction of the amount of other materials that were investigated.

"I think we've looked into all of the possibilities and it's difficult to conceive of a better material at this time," Jiles said. For more information, contact Jiles at (515) 294-9685, or Susan Dieterle, Ames Lab Public Affairs,
(515) 294-1405.

ISU construction engineering team wins national competition
A team of six Iowa State University construction engineering students captured first place in a national design-build student competition. The competition, which was held March 9-11, is sponsored by the Associated Schools of Construction and the Associated General Contractors of America.

"The teams are given basic specifications and site plans to review," said Gary Smith, an ISU professor of construction engineering who coached the team. "After a brief question and answer period with the judges, they were restricted to their rooms until they completed the design. It is a very high-paced and high-energy environment for the students to work in. It is a very creative team environment."

The team had to design-build a poultry processing plant, a facility that had already been designed and built by McCarthy Building Companies Inc., a national construction company. The eight-member judging panel included personnel from the actual project team including the designer, owner and contractor for the project, Smith said.

"They were given the basics and asked to come up with a design for a $20 million project," Smith said. "What they had to produce in 16 hours was a basic design that included floor plans and elevations as well as a construction schedule."

The ISU team was one of five that competed in the national design-build competition, after winning regional competitions in February. Team members included Todd Edsall, Brian Hedgren, Kevin Hodgson, Emily Kunz, Ryan May and Mike Callahan. For more information, contact Smith at (515) 294-3916, or Skip Derra, News Service, (515) 294-4917.

New way to rock the docks
An endurance testing device for modular, plastic floating docks has been developed by an engineering design team at Iowa State University for use by a manufacturing company. The Center for Industrial Research and Service (CIRAS) developed the project, which originated at the request of Schafer Systems Inc. The Adair, Iowa, company sought a way to simulate long-term testing of its innovative docks under conditions that resembled wave action. Not surprisingly, there was no appropriate device on the market.

"We started from scratch," said Brandon Grell, a senior in mechanical engineering who works as a product development intern at CIRAS. "Schafer wanted something that could be pieced together in different ways to fit a variety of dock shapes."

Grell, assisted by three of the engineering staff at CIRAS, modeled the device using three-dimensional computer-aided design software. They designed an apparatus that can generate an oscillating motion while attached to a dock in the water. Using the CIRAS design, the machine shop at the U.S. Department of Energy's Ames Laboratory welded and machined components for the endurance testing device.

The proof-of-concept test will take place in the underwater acoustic tank that was built into the floor of Iowa State's recently opened Howe Hall. Although this type of test is not the primary function of the tank, the tank will allow CIRAS to demonstrate and fine-tune the device. For more information contact Jeff Mohr, CIRAS,
(515) 294-8534, or Eric Dieterle, Engineering Communications, (515) 294-0260.

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