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Bless our hearts as Edmund Burke quoted: The only thing necessary for the triump of evil is for good men(and women) to...

Students design and build Baja buggy for national competition

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ECU Baja team captain Evan Diener tests the buggy at the Blackjack Mx Off Road Park.

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By ECU News Services

Sunday, May 19, 2019

After an eight-year hiatus, a team of students from East Carolina University’s College of Engineering and Technology has returned to the Baja buggy design competition sponsored by the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) Foundation, held last month in Cookeville, Tennessee.

A combination of funding from the ECU Center for Sustainable Energy and Environmental Engineering (CSE3), the Department of Engineering and the Student Government Association allowed the project to move forward — but it was on a shoestring budget compared to the programs it was competing against.

For the Baja SAE competition , each team uses the same Briggs & Stratton engine (think lawn mower or go-cart) limited to the same speed and designs a buggy around it. If the buggy passes inspection — no easy feat, it turns out — the team can participate in a set of four dynamic events and an endurance race. None of the three previous teams from ECU had passed the technical inspection, said Dr. Tarek Abdel-Salam, engineering professor and director of CSE3, so that was his goal for this year’s team.

During the fall 2018 semester, the team set to designing a buggy in a small caged area in the high bay of the Science and Technology Building. More than 20 students helped along the way, including the dedicated core group that kept things moving forward.

In April, five team members, along with Salam, arrived in Tennessee with a buggy in a 6-by-12 trailer, the smallest by far of the rigs in the parking lot. Other teams had semi-truck trailers emblazoned with their logos and filled with equipment.

Undaunted and equipped with mostly hand tools and a welder, the team got registered and began the inspection process. For more than two days they worked on the vehicle in order to pass inspection and be allowed to compete in the dynamic events, which included a sled pull, acceleration, suspension and traction, and maneuverability. And then there was the endurance race.

“Our objective in this build, this year, was durability and reliability,” said team captain Evan Diener. “We wanted to pass tech and we wanted to be able to compete in the endurance race.”

The black-and-purple buggy was designed with a robust suspension; Diener — who got to drive because he was the only team member who managed to unstrap himself and get out of the car in under 5 seconds as required by rule — said he never lifted his foot off the gas on the endurance course.

“We just pounded over everything, and the suspension just ate it,” he said.

The course was brutal, with giant holes, trenches and other obstacles. The team didn’t finish the race, which was condensed from four hours to two and a half due to a forecast of inclement weather, but the buggy lasted for more than 45 minutes before dropping out with drivetrain issues. The transmission belt started slipping, and the design didn’t include a way to adjust the tension.

Salam said he also hopes this year’s effort will help generate more support.

“I’m really excited because as a small team with limited resources … they proved to be real engineers,” he said. “Teamwork is part of what I teach here, and they did excellent work as a team.”

Read more at http://go.ecu.edu/57589df2 and follow the team’s efforts on Facebook at @ECUmotorsports .

Researcher testifies on dangers of chemical compounds

A researcher at ECU’s Brody School of Medicine testified Wednesday before a U.S. House of Representatives subcommittee about the negative health effects of chemical compounds that are estimated to be in the drinking water systems of 19 million Americans.

Dr. Jamie DeWitt, an associate professor in Brody’s Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology, discussed the human health risks of per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in front of the U.S. House of Representative’s Committee on Energy and Commerce’s Subcommittee on Environment and Climate Change.

The hearing — entitled “Protecting Americans at Risk of PFAS Contamination and Exposure” — included discussions on a series of PFAS-related bills currently being considered by lawmakers.

PFAS are human-made chemicals — such as PFOA, PFOS and GenX — that have been manufactured and used in a variety of industries since the 1940s. These chemical compounds are commonly found in commercial household products, industrial facilities, drinking water and food grown in PFAS-contaminated soil or processed with equipment that used PFAS.

DeWitt, who was recently featured by National Public Radio , The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and StarNews Online , has been studying the immunotoxicity of PFAS since 2005 and is part of a collaborative with investigators at North Carolina State University, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, UNC-Wilmington, UNC-Charlotte, North Carolina A&T and Duke University that received $5 million in state funding to study the health effects of the substances .

The North Carolina Legislature allocated the $5 million to the N.C. Policy Collaboratory, which disseminated the funds to experts at these universities to conduct PFAS-related research. State officials have said this research model is the first of its kind in the United States.

“I think we are very fortunate to be in a state that has a university system that really makes it possible to bring together our collective expertise for the benefit of the residents of this state,” DeWitt said. “This is a use of taxpayer money that is going to address a problem of direct relevance, right now, to citizens who are drinking water that is contaminated.”

During the next year, DeWitt’s team plans to study at least six different PFAS compounds and conduct at least one mixture study to find out how the immune system responds when it is exposed to the chemical compounds.

“The question is: ‘If your body is exposed to a PFAS, can your body make an appropriate immune response?’” DeWitt said. “We ask a few more detailed questions to help us to understand what cells might be involved … but basically, we’re asking the immune system to respond to a vaccine challenge after it’s been exposed to a PFAS.”

According to the N.C. PFAS Testing (PFAST) Network, PFAS are found in a wide range of consumer products that are used daily, such as cookware, pizza boxes and stain repellents. Therefore, a majority of the population has been exposed to PFAS, some of which can accumulate and remain in the human body for a long time.

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