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June 2001

News about Science, Technology and Engineering at Iowa State University

Iowa State students gear up for the American Solar Challenge
Iowa State students are busy at work getting their solar car, PrISUm Odyssey, ready for the American Solar Challenge (ASC), a Chicago to Los Angeles race July 15-25. At 2,300 miles, the ASC will be the longest solar car race ever attempted. Along the way, 40 to 60 solar car teams will traverse the continental U.S. and all of its geologic features from hills to valleys, to deserts and mountains, while running only on solar power.

"This is by far the most ambitious solar car race ever," says Nick Mohr, director of ISU's Team PrISUm. "But we feel we have the right mix of technology and team talents to be one of the top competitors this year."

ASC is the successor to past Sunrayce solar car races. ASC will have two general categories for cars in the race -- a stock class, which has restrictions on the types of technologies allowed for solar cells and batteries, and an open class, which has less stringent rules covering technologies. Iowa State will be racing in the open class. There will be only two designated overnight stop/start points along the route where all teams must gather (Rolla, Mo., July 16-17 and Barstow Calif., July 24-25). Race days will be roughly from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and official standings will be posted each evening at www.formulasun.org/asc. Updates for Iowa State's team will be posted at www.iastate.edu and at the team's web site, www.prisum.iastate.edu.

This is the sixth solar car race Iowa State has competed in. In the last Sunrayce, held in 1999, ISU finished fifth in a field of 29 cars. For more information, contact Nick Mohr or Ben Nimmergut, Team PrISUm, (515) 294-0899, or Skip Derra, ISU News Service, (515) 294-4917.

Defense grant to ISU engineering professor
Shanker Balasubramaniam, an Iowa State assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering, was recently awarded a $450,000 Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA) research grant to develop methods for conducting computer simulations of proposed defense systems. The three-year grant will help fund Balasubramaniam's work on fast time-domain integral equation solvers for large-scale electromagnetic analysis. The research is in conjunction with the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana, where Balasubramaniam worked before coming to ISU.

The project will help develop faster techniques for conducting numerical electro-magnetic simulations of various defense systems, such as advanced stealth technology, Balasubramaniam said. It also has the potential for applications in commercial industries, including computer chip design and wireless communications. Currently, techniques used in "virtual" testing of systems can take months or even years to complete. By radically reducing computational time and memory requirements, the project hopes to bring new technologies on-line in a fraction of the time.

For more information, contact Balasubramaniam, (515) 294-2663, or Dennis Smith, Engineering Communications, (515) 294-0267.

CFD methods boost high-speed jet propulsion technology
In a two-year $58,000 NASA-funded project, John Tannehill, an ISU professor of aerospace engineering and engineering mechanics, is developing a computational fluid dynamics (CFD) method to analyze the performance of air breathing engines called scramjets (supersonic combustion ramjets). These engines are being considered for future launch vehicles to replace the Space Shuttle. One idea is to improve the performance of scramjet engines by using a magneto-hydrodynamic (MHD) energy bypass system.

Combustion in a scramjet propulsion system becomes inefficient when the speed of the airflow entering the system, measured in Mach numbers, is high. The MHD concept is based on the idea that energy is redistributed between the various stages of a scramjet engine in order to reduce the Mach number at the entrance of the combustion chamber.

Simulating the flow field inside the engine, according to Tannehill, is critical to improving the aero-thermodynamic and propulsion efficiency of scramjet engines. Tannehill and doctoral students Manohari Ramesh and Hiromasa Kato are using CFD techniques to predict the theoretical performance of a scramjet MHD energy bypass system.

Tannehill and research group have developed a new code to compute two-dimensional, supersonic MHD flow fields more accurately and efficiently. The ultimate goal of the research, Tannehill said, is to compute the entire flow field inside an MHD energy bypass propulsion system. For more information, contact Tannehill, (515) 294-4766, or Sunanda Vittal, Engineering Communications, (515) 294-8787.


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