Westerville News & Public Opinion

Local helps lead Ohio State's latest EcoCAR engineers

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A Westerville native will help lead a team of Ohio State University undergraduate students in a nationwide collegiate competition sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy and General Motors.

OSU graduate student M.J. Yatsko will help direct the EcoCAR team, which is comprised of 45 graduate and undergraduate students, in redesigning a Chevrolet Camaro into a hybrid vehicle in the four-year-long Advanced Vehicle Technology Competition.

The competition encourages students to innovate and create alternative fuel technologies and advanced propulsion. Sixteen universities across the country participate, but OSU is the only university in Ohio to compete.

The EcoCAR team is a reason why Yatsko attended OSU. She joined as an intern in high school and stayed on the team throughout college. It helped her pursue and finish her mechanical engineering undergraduate degree this year.

"I grew up around cars. My dad is a car salesman and I always found cars interesting," Yatsko said. "As I got older, I got interested in green technologies and environmentally friendly engineering. EcoCAR is the mix between the two. It was the perfect place -- I got to work on cars and explore green energies."

She will pursue a master's in mechanical engineering and continue to be part of the EcoCAR team. However, Yatsko's role on the team is evolving.

As an intern, she had to find a way to create cruise control for the car. In college, she began on the mechanical side of building the car and worked her way to developing the car's control system.

"With hybrids, you have to think about where is it more efficient to get energy. It is figuring out how to use things correctly," she said.

The team is finishing the 2013 competition next month with its EcoCAR2, where students converted a 2013 Chevrolet Malibu into an environmentally friendly vehicle.

The GM-donated Chevrolet Camaro will become EcoCAR3 in the next competition. The Camaro will provide a new challenge for the team since its appeal is in its performance.

"I was so excited," Yatsko said. "We have to consider the performance aspect of the car and not just the efficiency. It is the performance of the hybrid that kind of deters customers."

The goal for the competition is to construct a hybrid vehicle and develop efficient technologies that could, in the end, be sold to a consumer.

The EcoCAR team has received attention from the White House. President Barack Obama visited the team in spring 2012 on a re-election campaign stop. Obama spoke at the university about energy and the team's innovation.

Yatsko said she was out of town during the president's visit and that it was a big secret among the team. However, she is honored that her team was recognized for its work.

"It was really cool to see him come out and see what we were working on," Yatsko said. "It's really cool for our team to know we have that kind of support."

Now as a team leader, she hopes to use the lessons the team learned from EcoCAR2 and push this team to innovate and create.

"The OSU team has been involved with the competition for a long time. We have knowledge of how to build a hybrid vehicle and those lessons will help us," Yatsko said. "We are looking forward to new challenges. We don't want to build the same car again, so we're looking forward to doing new things."

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