STEAM car project promotes interdisciplinary collaboration

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NATCHITOCHES – Faculty from five departments at Northwestern State University are collaborating on an interdisciplinary project that incorporates elements of science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics (STEAM) to create a functional and attractive automobile.  Students and faculty from the Departments of Fine and Graphic Arts, Engineering Technology, Computer Information Systems, Biological and Physical Sciences and Mathematics will collaborate on the design and functionality of a Mazda RX-8 Wankel Rotary Engine art and alternative fuel project with each department contributing to the car’s completion.

 

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The STEAM car project will encourage students to work together to contribute solutions for efficient alternative power and design for the vehicle, according to Collier Hyams, associate professor of art and principal investigator of the project.

 

“This approach engages the students with new and emerging technologies, a colorful and attractive image and utilizes experiential learning,” Hyams said. “The combination of traditional academic research and vocational school style training offers educational opportunities to a diverse cross-section of students with an eye to solving a 21st century challenge.”

 

Other faculty working on the project are Dr. Jafar Al-Sharab, head of Engineering Technology; Dr. Jason Powell, assistant professor of Computer Information Systems; Dr. Christopher Lyles, assistant professor of biology, and Dr. Ben Rushing, professor of mathematics.

 

Engineering Technology students will learn about functionality of different parts including the Mazda’s unique Wankel Rotary Engine, encouraging students to compare it to other types of engines.  The Department will select two students to investigate Smart Sensors and Internet of Things (IoT) and study the efficiency of the rotary engine.

 

CIS students will apply their IT and business skills to help solve problems with their counterparts in Engineering Technology, as well as work with artists and graphic designers at NSU. This expanded knowledge will make all participants ready for the workforce while increasing their potential job opportunities.

 

In the Department of Biological and Physical Sciences, faculty are looking at hydrogen as a promising alternative to fossil fuel and several bacterial species have been cultured and identified that can convert sugars to hydrogen. Faculty and students will conduct experiments around the production of hydrogen gas to determine what it would take to generate enough power to operate the Mazda on biologically produced hydrogen.

 

Fourth year statistics students from the Department of Mathematics will organize analyze historical data surrounding Mazda’s use of the rotary engine, particularly in their RX series, and evaluate potential impact of fuel system modification to an alternate source.

 

Students and faculty in Fine and Graphic Arts will be engaged in the interior and exterior design of the vehicle, including ergonomics and body shaping.  Last semester, Hyams designed the skin for a Mazda RX-8 that was featured at NSU’s Christmas Gala and in the Christmas Festival parade.

 

Hyams has a multidisciplinary background and has had a long relationship with Mazda, participating with art car design projects since 2014.

 

“We hope that this STEAM project will broaden the participation of females, minorities and under-represented groups at NSU. We also anticipate that this project will serve as a seed for future STEAM projects,” he said.

Students and faculty from several disciplines will collaborate on the design and functionality of a Mazda RX-8, incorporating elements of engineering technology, computer information systems, art and design and biologically produced fuels. From left are Professor of Computer Information Systems Jason Powell, Professor of Art Collier Hyams, NSU President Dr. Chris Maggio and Dr. Jafar Al-Sharab, head of NSU’s Department of Engineering Technology. Dr. Chris Lyles, professor of biological sciences, and Dr. Ben Rushing, professor of mathematics, are also involved with the project.