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Electric ATV Signals Success for Murray State Engineering Students

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Dustin Wilcox
/
WKMS

A group of six engineering physics students at Murray State University (MSU) ensured a brighter future not only for themselves but also for the institution at large by creating an electric all-terrain vehicle (ATV).

Students Jackson Arnold, Dana Buesseler, Shariq Fayaz, Tom Grogan, Christian Kester and Tyler Whetstone saw a unique opportunity when devising and constructing the ATV in fulfillment of their senior capstone project requirements.

 

 

Jamie Rogers, an associate professor who supervised the project, says the group was composed of students interested in both mechanical and electrical systems, which, alongside the current state of affairs in the nation, influenced their focus.

“They wanted something to have more of an electrical challenge,” Rogers said. “And then, just the push in this country for electric vehicles, the whole idea of charging stations across the country, they saw it as a hot topic right now, to where it was certainly real world.”

Tyler Whetstone — a member of the electrical team who plans to work for Dynetics, a defense contracting firm in Huntsville, Alabama — says the electric ATV could evolve alongside the real-world shift toward electrification.

“The move toward more electric vehicles and them becoming more and more viable is definitely something of interest to the project,” Whetstone said. “This is obviously just a first prototype, but the goal, I think, for the engineering department is that the other senior design groups will take on aspects of this vehicle and improve to make more prototypes down the line.”

The inception of the electric ATV parallels President Joe Biden's push for increased adoption of electric vehicles among Americans. The administration may spend up to $174 billion in pursuit of this goal, according to previous reporting by the New York Times.

U.S. greenhouse gas emissions totaled 5,769 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalents after accounting for sequestration from the land sector in 2019, according to data from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Transportation emissions comprised 29% of this total.

However, the ATV was designed less with the intention of reducing environmental impact and more to stay current with pivotal trends in industry. Rogers noted in most cases electricity is generated by non-renewable resources.

“As engineers, we kind of see the whole story there, so having an electric vehicle in Kentucky that’s charged by coal isn’t necessarily environmentally friendly,” he said. “I think it’s more just the overall idea of electrification — that we’re moving that route — and that eventually, if we have renewable sources and cleaner energy, then having electric vehicles would themselves be cleaner. But we talked a lot as a team that this particular vehicle isn’t necessarily cleaner than my car since it’s really being charged by coal.”

In previous years, MSU engineering physics students designed similar, gas-powered vehicles under the moniker of “Baja Buggy.” Whetstone says students initially proposed something “along the lines of an electric motorcycle,” but “jumped on” the idea when Rogers suggested making an electric Baja car instead.

Rogers says this project will demonstrate group members’ tangible skills as they move on to graduate school or enter the workforce.

“The key for our students is, when they go in for an interview, they need to be able to tell who they’re talking to what they’ve actually done,” he said. “It’s more than just theory in their mind. It’s what they’ve actually practically done. It’s important. That’s what projects like this give the students.”

Jackson Arnold — a member of the electrical team who plans to start graduate school at the University of Florida next semester — says the seniors who worked on the project will all benefit from the experience in some way.

“I think everyone is going to benefit from it, especially the mechanical team, especially if they want to go work on vehicles,” Arnold said. “Way more for the mechanical team than the electrical team, but I mean, we’re still going to put it on resumes and show pictures of it because it’s a pretty big feat.”

Whetstone says the electric ATV went on his application and spurred “several questions” during the job interview process because it showed his ability to transfer class skills to “real life” applications.

“On that front alone, it’s moving from the design to the application, or from the theory to the application,” Whetstone said. “[The electric ATV] definitely helped with that, as well as just it being something like, ‘This team accomplished that.’”

 

Shariq Fayaz — a member of the mechanical team who plans to work for two years before applying for graduate school — says his experience building the electric ATV is directly related to his future career goals. Currently applying for Toyota, Fayaz hopes to eventually pivot to Tesla and SpaceX.

“Right now, I’m looking for applying for Toyota, and I’ve got a call back from them, so I just feel like making a car and working on a car like this, obviously, it’s going to help me get a job pretty easily at Toyota,” Fayaz said. “But yeah, I just feel like it’s going to have a huge impact. I can already see that. My resume has been rejected so many times, but I just feel like this single thing can have a really huge impact and can change a lot of things on my career and the resume.”

Projects such as the electric ATV demonstrate to incoming engineering physics students the opportunities available at MSU to prepare for their future careers.

“What we want is people to be excited about engineering,” Rogers said. “So in our community and the region, we want them to see that we’re trying to do state of the art engineering at Murray State and that they have that opportunity to connect with us. We want, obviously, to recruit bright students to be engineering physics students here.”

And Arnold considers impressive projects like the electric ATV a major selling point when those students are deciding which institution to attend.

“Most people either go to an engineering school because they do cool projects, or they’re really high-rated, right?” Arnold said. “Or I guess they’re the cheapest one around, which is kind of my case with scholarships and Murray. But I mean, showing off cool projects makes seniors in high school go, ‘Man, I would really like to make a car like that. That sounds like a lot of fun. I’m going to go to this school.’”

The electric ATV was one of five capstone projects engineering physics seniors presented this year, in addition to industry-related automation projects, another electrification project and a more research-based project.

Dustin Wilcox is a television production student at Murray State University. He graduated from Hopkinsville High School in 2019.
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