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The Need for Speed

It may not be a high-performance car, but a highly efficient, electric go-cart designed by Sarah Wodin-Schwartz ’07 may lead to future innovations in the automobile and transportation industries.

The go-cart, which was designed last year, is powered by batteries charged via solar panels on the roof of the engineering building. The car could also be adapted to use fuel cells, Wodin-Schwartz says.

“I couldn’t have a go-cart when I was younger,” laments Wodin-Schwartz, “so I decided to build one as an additional project. It’s a lot of fun.”

Wodin-Schwartz, who will complete her engineering degree this spring, plans to pursue a doctorate in microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) at the University of California, Berkeley, after leaving Smith. “MEMS are essentially complete systems on a microchip that sense and control their environment -- things like fuel injection or airbag deployment,” she explains. “I’m interested in how this technology can improve transportation, especially with the environmental challenges we face.”

While her go-cart may be among the most enjoyable projects she’s completed at Smith, Wodin-Schwartz has remained involved in a variety of other engineering-related endeavors.

"I couldn't have a go-cart when I was younger," says Wodin-Schwartz

“I’ve done so many things since I came to Smith,” she said, “like dissecting engines, developing a one-armed kayak paddle, and working on the NASA students research project. I really enjoy being able to apply what I’m learning in different courses and seeing how one class informs another.”

During the past year, Wodin-Schwartz teamed with fellow Smith engineers in the Senior Design Clinic, working with Aavid Thermalloy, a global developer and manufacturer of heat management systems, on designing a personal computer (PC) that can work in tropical environments.

PCs have traditionally been designed for use in air-conditioned spaces in industrialized countries with clean, steady electrical power. Less developed countries in tropical environments present hazards such as high levels of airborne dust, hot, humid operating environments and spotty electrical power. Factors such as bumpy roads can expose products to high shock and vibration during transportation.

The goal of the Design Clinic project is to develop a PC enclosure that provides a dust-free, sealed environment for sensitive elements, such as computer motherboards and hard drives. Aavid Thermalloy will integrate the design and ideas from the seniors’ project to develop a commercial product for manufacture and sale in tropical countries.

For Wodin-Schwartz, her wide-ranging interests at Smith reflects her life’s varied pattern. “I always liked to play with blocks, and I wanted to be an astronaut,” she recalls, “then an archaeologist, then an economist. But I knew I wanted to be an engineer by 7th or 8th grade.”

In addition to her avid interest in engineering, Wodin-Schwartz has worked as a kayak instructor, and enjoys rock-climbing and cooking. “And I really enjoy Impressionist and Neo-Impressionist art,” she adds. “Georges Seurat is my favorite, perhaps because I enjoy being able to see so much of the technique in the work.”

She rounds out her studies with courses in Spanish, ethics, and acting.

With her list of interests and activities, Wodin-Schwartz may need her go-cart to speed from place to place on campus.

1/9/07   By Carole Fuller
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