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6/17/11 - Despite challenges, MSU EcoCar team finds success

Faced with an unforeseen -- and major -- problem but pushing forward nonetheless, Mississippi State's 2011 EcoCar team finished the international challenge with high honors.

The university group was among 16 entries completing the three-year competition this week in Detroit, Mich., and Washington, D.C.

Just as the team's Saturn VUE sports utility vehicle was being loaded for shipment to the finale of the U.S. Department of Energy and General Motors-sponsored event, members identified the cause of a persistent overheating problem--a blown head gasket.

A key engine component, the head gasket would haunt the team throughout the intense matchup with 15 other top universities from the United States and Canada.

Unable to locate a replacement part in this country, they had one shipped overnight from Germany. Even with the gasket in hand, there was a critical decision of whether to repair the vehicle or continue competing with the malfunction.

"Replacing the head gasket is akin to open-heart surgery," said professor Marshall Molen, the team's faculty adviser. The repair would have taken roughly two days to complete and likely would have caused the team to miss parts of the competition, he added.

Team leader Matt Doude, a McCool native who recently earned a master's degree in mechanical engineering, said the less-than-ideal circumstance taught him and other team members many positive lessons.

"We came together to arrive at the best solution," he said. "We didn't give up."

While MSU placed first in 2010 and third in 2009, this year's team was held to a sixth-place overall finish. It did place first in a number of categories, including student presentations.

Molen also was honored with the Outstanding Faculty Adviser Award, with judging based primarily on student recommendations.

"That it came from students means an awful lot to me," he said.

Doude said MSU's vehicle completion of the individual events must be considered another 2011 success. Despite the blown gasket, the Saturn successfully managed the required 100-mile endurance drive, he said.

Molen expressed great pride in the MSU team's tenacity and focus. He often cites his work with the students as one of the professional highlights of his career.

"Our kids have a reputation of being young professionals," he said.

With EcoCar now history, Team MSU already is preparing for the next challenge. It previously accepted an invitation to enter EcoCar2, another three-year challenge that, this time, involves a Chevy Malibu.

Meanwhile, members will take some time for other challenges. For Jonathan D. "Jon" Moore of Fort Worth, Texas, the electrical group team leader, the summer will involve an internship at Freescale Semiconductor's Detroit office.

When then electrical engineering graduate student returns in August, he plans to immediately begin work on computer modeling and simulations that will help lay foundations for the Malibu project.

"When I get back in a few months, it'll be back to business," said Moore.

ROBBIE S. WARD | University Relations

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