New club gives more students the opportunity to work on an interdisciplinary team and learn about sustainable engineering and transportation Twitter
Thanks to a generous grant from the Acopian family, Lafayette Motorsports is undergoing a shift that will enable students across the College to become involved with the state-of-the-art project.
Originally the formula car was a mechanical engineering capstone design project. Students spent their senior year designing and fabricating a car to compete in the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) formula-style racing competition. In recent years, the team evolved to include senior electrical and computer engineers, shifting to developing technologies and working to build an electric vehicle for the SAE Formula Electric Vehicle competition. While the formula car is still an option for senior design, the Acopian donation powers up a notable evolution as Lafayette Motorsports adds a club format.
This enables anyone regardless of year or major to participate on a project that embraces a leading solution to gas-powered cars in a climate-conscious society. It allows everyone—regardless of where they come from on campus or their level of experience—to bring something to the table, experience the benefits of working in an interdisciplinary team environment, and cultivate an interest in sustainable, renewable platforms for transportation and beyond.
Students who are interested in environmental issues, policy, infrastructure, marketing, and more can discover the benefits and challenges of new technologies and see the interplay of elements that go into engineering design firsthand.
The Acopian family has a long-standing legacy at Lafayette Engineering. Sarkis Acopian graduated from Lafayette with a mechanical engineering degree in 1951 before founding Acopian Technical Co. in 1957. His sons, Greg ’70 and Jeff ’75, also graduated from the College, with electrical engineering degrees. Over the years, the family’s contributions have been transformational to Lafayette’s engineering programs.
A generous gift from Sarkis and his wife, Bobbye Acopian, resulted in a complete renovation of the 90,000-square-foot Acopian Engineering Center, dedicated on campus in 2003. This dramatic facility modernization enhanced the curricular offerings with state-of-the-art labs and enabled students to engage in a broad spectrum of projects of the magnitude of the formula car.
Cousins Ezra Acopian ’03 and Alex Karapetian ’04 serve as CEO and president of Acopian Technical Co., a manufacturer of electronic power supplies headquartered in Easton, with manufacturing facilities in both Easton and Melbourne, Fla.
“We are proud to sponsor Lafayette’s entry into the 2022 Formula Electric Hybrid Race Car competition. This exciting endeavor celebrates ingenuity in design and aligns with our family’s legacy of promoting conservation and its long tradition of supporting Lafayette,” Karapetian said. “We are especially excited that Lafayette chose to design an all-electric race car, leapfrogging away from the internal combustion engine entirely.”
The latest gift advances the capstone experience, furthering Lafayette’s progress at the forefront of current technology. It enables Lafayette to be even more competitive among top schools such as MIT, Brown, Air Force, Purdue, Cal Tech, Tu Graz (Austria), and University of Tokyo.
“The Acopian Technical Co. is a world-leader in electronic power supplies with a reputation for reliability and excellence, so it’s extremely powerful to have their support for our students working with this technology, especially as we ramp up with the club format expanding opportunities for students throughout campus,” said Scott Hummel, William A. Jeffers Director of the Engineering Division.
Alex Brown, assistant professor of mechanical engineering who serves as faculty adviser, and Dan Sabatino, associate professor of engineering and department head, promoted the club model as a means to enhance the curriculum and offer the campus a new way to connect with engineering, but funding for the club was a concern.
“The grant from the Acopians was the only way to make this happen,” Brown said. “The students are excited about the shift to a club format, and it’s amazing to see the increase in interest throughout campus once the project opened up as a club. It’s a great way for students to get involved in something big and meaningful early on in their academic careers, and to build a community.”
The traditional senior project design team consists of 21 mechanical engineering and electrical and computer engineering students. The club includes about 15 additional members with mechanical engineer Kevin Durfee ’23 serving as club president. The club is responsible for all deliverables due for competition and is focused on improving performance. The senior design team is currently assisting the club in all engineering and design requirements in order to produce a rules-compliant car. Together, the team is working to establish a process for the flow and documentation of information to ensure institutional knowledge continuity.
“This grant is crucial for the club to get off the ground and for us to get to competition this year, and we couldn’t be more grateful to the Acopian family,” Durfee said. “It will allow us to develop new designs for next year’s vehicle that are more performance oriented.”
The interdisciplinary nature of the formula car team reinforces the mission of the College itself along with Lafayette Engineering’s vision to provide a welcoming and inclusive climate for all to learn, develop, and apply engineering methodologies.
“The more integrated format encourages broad thinking and teamwork, as well as intellectual, social, and personal growth, and cultivates students’ capacity for creative endeavor as they stretch themselves beyond their comfort zones,” Hummel said. “The Acopian support energizes the entire project.”