Engineering Team to Use EPA Award to Teach High Schoolers about E-Bikes

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How likely is a new teenage driver to trade in his or her keys for an electric bike? That’s a question some UT professors are trying to answer.

Together, professors from four different departments within the College of Engineering have won a $15,000 grant from the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The grant is phase one of the EPA’s People, Prosperity and the Planet (P3) annual student design competition, which offers students quality hands-on experience that brings their classroom learning to life.

Paul Frymier, associate professor in Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering; Chris Cherry, assistant professor in Civil and Environmental Engineering; David Irick, research assistant professor in Mechanical, Aerospace, and Biomedical Engineering; and Leon Tolbert, head of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, are advising undergraduate engineering students working with teams of high school students to design and construct electric bicycles.

Three local high schools are participating in the project—West, Fulton, and Farragut. A competition between the teams will be held in January.

“The objective of our project is to encourage new teenaged drivers to consider the impacts of their personal transportation choices,” said Frymier. “To make the project interesting, we showed them how to use elementary physics, mathematics, and engineering to select components for converting a bike to an e-bike to navigate a hilly area such as Knoxville.”

Since September, undergraduate engineering students have been advising the teams of high school students on the design and construction of electric bicycles. The high school teams will prepare and orally defend project reports discussing the design process and sustainability impacts of various transportation scenarios, including an e-bike as a commuting option for school and for general personal transportation.

Teams also will participate in a final event test-driving their e-bikes to determine which is the best at climbing hills, energy efficiency, and speed on a prescribed obstacle course.

“One of the teams will be selected as the competition winner based on its written report, the oral defense of their report and the outcome of the various performance trials,” said Frymier. “The winner will receive a trophy and bragging rights.”

Students also will be surveyed before and after the project to determine their attitudes toward and expectations for personal transportation. Results will be analyzed to see if project participation leads to more favorable attitudes toward use of personal transportation options that lower environmental, societal, and economic impacts.

The undergraduate student advisors are Rebekah Patton in Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering; Rick Wheeler in Civil and Environmental Engineering; Candice Patton in Electrical and Computer Engineering; Chris Stanfill in Mechanical, Aerospace, and Biomedical Engineering; and Jordan Bryner and Yi Ying Chin in Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering.

The student advisors are assisted by a team of high school faculty advisors including Karyn Storts-Brinks, David Hawkins Fulton, and Kimberly Kennard at Fulton, Matthew Milligan at Farragut, and Joe Foy at West.

EPA’s P3 has two phases. In the first phase of the competition, teams are awarded a $15,000 grant to develop their idea. They bring the design in April to the National Sustainable Design Expo in Washington, DC, to compete for the P3 Award and a grant of $90,000 to take their design to real-world application.

Forty-five college teams were awarded a total of almost $700,000 in grants in Phase One. For more information about the competition, visit the press release at the EPA website.

C O N T A C T :

Whitney Heins (865-974-5460, wheins@utk.edu)

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