Campus: CSU, Fresno -- October 14, 1999

NASA Funds Construction Of Hovercraft By Fresno State Engineering Students And Area Schools

NASA has awarded the College of Engineering and Computer Science at California State University, Fresno a two-year $185,000 grant that will create a unique partnership with area community colleges and high schools and result in the construction of a two-person 1,000-pound hovercraft.

Dubbed "Project Explore," the award was announced Oct. 1 and is among several given nationwide to educational institutions that are designated Hispanic Serving Institutes, said Dr. Satya Mahanty, chair of the Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering who wrote the proposal.

The awards are part of NASA's efforts to attract minority students into the math, science, engineering, and technology areas through Partnership Awards for Innovative and Unique Education and Research (PAIUER) grants.

Fresno State students from the Mechanical and Industrial Engineering department and Professor Walter Mizuno will serve as integrators for the project. NASA-Dryden Space Research Center will be overseeing the project status.

Minority students from the university's MESA Program (Math, Engineering, and Science Achievement) will also participate along with students from Fresno City College, Reedley College and Reedley High School.

Mahanty said the primary focus of the grant is for Fresno State to develop teaching modules in topics such as aerodynamics, aerostructure, power train design, thrusting systems, controls, and telemetry.

Community college and high school teachers at the participating sites can use the modules to enhance regular classroom instruction and in the design of the hovercraft. This information can then be shared with other institutions once the project is completed.

Mahanty said Project Explore is a creative opportunity for Fresno State to reach out to local schools with resources that can help better train teachers while also establishing interaction between them and the university's engineering professors.

"We want them to know we are here to provide any kind of assistance, whether academic, technical, or equipment," Mahanty said. "We want to breakdown barriers that exist between the schools, and find common ground to work together so eventually this area produces more top science and engineering students."

While the teaching modules are the main focus of the grant and will be intended to help local community college and high school instructors improve their instruction techniques, Mahanty called the design and construction of the hovercraft from the modules the "carrot" of the project.

Although design specifications will be fine-tuned once that portion begins in January 2000, initial plans call for the hovercraft - which will be able to negotiate land and water - to travel at 45 mph and have a 500 pound payload capacity.

Each of the participating schools will be assigned to design and build a portion of the hovercraft at their respective sites. Fresno State senior mechanical engineering students will serve as the integrators, Mahanty said, verifying all calculations and ensuring that the design will be correct.

Participants will communicate in face-to-face meetings but will also use the Internet/email to provide vital communication links.

The two-year project will include development of pertinent laboratory experiments and testing procedures including wind tunnel tests, flow visualization, laser Doppler anemometry, strain gage techniques, vehicle propulsion and lift, environment and safety, and application of control theory to vehicle systems management.

"Teachers and students from the participating sites would be exposed to state-of-the-art software packages in solid modeling, finite element analysis, mechanism kinematics, and computational fluid dynamics," Mahanty said.

The students will then apply the principles taught in the modules and laboratory work to aid in the design, construction, and testing of the two-person hovercraft.

"This is a rare and valuable hands-on mission that will emphasize theory in the first phases and practical application in the final phases," Mahanty said. "Students will gain valuable first hand knowledge they can apply in their college and professional careers."

He said Fresno State students will get more hands-on design experience as well as mentoring experience working with other students from other institutions.

Dr. Karl Longley, dean of the College of Engineering and Computer Science also hopes the hovercraft vehicle will serve as a "high flying" useful recruitment tool.

"At the completion of the project, the teaching modules would be a resource for all institutions and the hovercraft will showcase that," Longley said.

For more information, contact Mahanty or Mizuno at 278-2368.

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