Physics Students Compete in SpaceX Contest – Hobart and William Smith Colleges \
The HWS Update

Physics Students Compete in SpaceX Contest

A team of Hobart and William Smith physics students recently had their preliminary design accepted to the first-ever SpaceX Hyperloop Pod Competition Design Weekend, beating out hundreds of universities, companies and individuals from around the world. Of the 1,200 designs submitted, the HWS team was chosen as one of 124 teams from 16 countries to advance to the final stage of the design process and presented their design remotely from HWS at the SpaceX Design Weekend event at Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas.

The Hyperloop is a futuristic high-speed rail system with multi-passenger, solar-powered “pods,” or capsules, speeding through a series of depressurized tubes. Elon Musk first proposed the Hyperloop idea in 2013, and his company, SpaceX, is one of several seeking to accelerate the development of a system prototype. He proposed a national challenge-to build a scaled-down pod model and necessary sub-systems. After several competition phases, Musk intends to hold a final contest in June 2016 at SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne, Calif., where a Hyperloop test track is being built.

The HWS Hyperloop team is comprised of sophomores and juniors: Scott Bordonaro ’17, Scott Calnan ’17, Tyler Hanzlik ’17 and Robert Hooper ’18. The team is thankful for fruitful discussions to Jeff Rizza ’16 and Chris Demas ’17. Together, they hope their Hyperloop ideas have the potential to make an impact on high-speed travel.

“When I learned about the competition last summer I chose to put a team together because it sounded like a great opportunity to get some engineering experience, and to be honest it just sounded cool,” says Hanzlik ’17, who is majoring in physics. “It has been fun to use our creativity and physics background while learning a lot of new things along the way.”

The students are designing a full pod. They are fine-tuning a full proposal with designs for the levitation system using electromagnetic eddy current levitation, and a modular electromagnetic braking system.

“We were able to make comparisons  to other things we found in the real world like high speed trains in Japan or the vacuum tube systems used by bank tellers,” Hanzlik says. “The Hyperloop is a new application that combines a lot of pre-existing technology.”

Hyperloop teams had the option of presenting a full-pod proposal or details related to one of the Hyperloop’s sub-systems. They were required to present a working prototype plan, as well as the process to build the equipment, materials used and cost estimates for manufacturing the pod. They were judged by university and corporate engineers.

“Our proposed design will far exceed the current levitation model in place,” says Assistant Professor of Physics Ileana Dumitriu, adviser to the HWS Hyperloop team. “Not to mention, this would be the first time a system like ours could be used in an environment like the Hyperloop tube.”

Dumitriu says the HWS team engaged with HWS faculty and took advantage of their expertise to learn more about successfully building mathematical models and to act as panelists similar to the ones that will question them about their new technologies during the SpaceX Design Weekend.

Over winter break, the team finalized designs, cost estimates, specifications and 3D models of components as well as simulations to verify that the designs properly work. “This is an excellent project for students to practice their new found skills in science, technology, engineering and mathematics/computer science,” says Peter Spacher, Ph.D., adviser to the HWS Hyperloop team. “This project gives students a great deal of practical experience.”

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