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Pre-July 2009 Press Archives

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7/12/2002 Turbine interest drives Linfield senior thesis project

A love of cars and an interest in physics have resulted in a senior thesis project on wheels for Michael Civay.

Civay, who graduated in June with a bachelor of arts degree in applied physics, designed and built an electric car for his senior thesis project. Batteries in the car are charged by a turbine auxiliary power unit, which Civay found at a school surplus auction.

“I knew it would be a good generator because turbines burn very clean,” said Civay, who will pursue graduate studies in material science at Cornell University in the fall. “I think this could be a technology that will be used in the future. Materials used in the construction of turbines are very expensive, as with many other technologies. Research in material science may yield more affordable alternatives to expensive materials for common use.”

Civay became interested in turbines and designed the car during an undergraduate research program at Cornell University last summer. He modeled the car with a low center of gravity for better handling, and used aluminum for its strength and light weight. The car has space for 10 batteries to produce 120 volts of electricity, but a single battery powered it to speeds of 10 to 15 miles per hour during its inaugural drive around the academic quad.

Much of the material for the car was donated by various organizations. Civay especially appreciated the use of the Linfield Research Institute shop, and said LRI also provided materials for the car.

Civay has worked in auto body shops and restored a number of cars on his own.

“I like old vehicles,” he said. “Right now I’m driving a 1978 Dodge pickup because it’s the only thing that runs.”

Civay said he finds technology interesting and inspiring, much like art. He considered this perspective as he designed the car with viewable parts and mechanics rather than enclosing them in metal like a traditional vehicle.

“The car is an engaging piece of art because it makes you want to learn more,” he said. “It makes you think about what’s going on and what problems were involved in making it.”

Civay hopes to donate the car to an appropriate nonprofit organization to further interest in alternate technology.