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Ice Dreams

July 1, 2010

Some kids dream of owning a special car one day.  Others dream of building it.

“Since sixth grade, I wanted to create a more efficient electric car, because of growing problems with climate change,” said Zhong “Janson” Fang, a Staten Island Technical High School student who worked closely with BMCC engineering mentors, faculty and staff, to make his dream car a reality.

“My project was to employ principles regarding superconductivity to increase the efficiency of an electric motor. We had to choose AC power or DC power, and for my project, I chose AC power.”

Then, to make the motor more efficient, he cooled it with a surprisingly low-tech material: ice.

“The reason I chose ice was to demonstrate how powerful its temperature is, on an electric motor,” said Fang. “You simply don’t need to cool an electric motor down to temperatures of superconductivity to achieve a much higher level of efficiency.”

Motor cools, and the heat is on

Through BMCC’s Science and Technology Entry Program (STEP), Fang completed his project and this past spring, with over a dozen fellow STEP students, piled into a jitney bus and traveled to Albany for a 3-day, statewide competition.  

Competing with high school students taking part in STEP projects at colleges all over New York, Fang’s poster presentation of the ice-cooled electric motor—which he created in both virtual and real versions—won first place.

“When I first went to Albany, I had extreme confidence about winning, but after I saw the catalogue, and the research projects the other students did, I was nervous,” Fang admits.

He credits the win to his own hard work, but also in large part to the guidance he received from BMCC engineering alums and STEP mentors Henry Delgado and Edgar Delgado, as well as math professor Carol Bilsky-Bienek and engineering professor Mahmoud Ardebili.

“Without them staying every day after school to help me with the project, I don’t think this project would have actually won an award,” said Fang.

As did the other STEP participants, Fang balanced his project with his regular high school studies.

“I basically came every day of the week to BMCC from Staten Island to make the electric motor and after that, after I was done with all of my homework, I usually stayed up till three in the morning working on my project paper,—and when I went to school the next day I was almost always tired. But I think my hard work actually paid off.”

STEP up to a science career

Established in 1985 by the New York State Legislature, STEP prepares historically underrepresented students, grades seven through 12, for college-level work in science and technology, and BMCC has been a STEP sponsor for over ten years.  

“It’s a program designed to recruit as well as support and encourage future scientists,” says STEP Director Everton Barrett. “STEP mentors have enormous knowledge in their specific fields, and share that expertise with high school students who may have abundant interest, but need content knowledge to apply it.”

STEP projects have run the gamut, he says, from mechanical engineering to biomedical science to solving ergonomic problems related to the design of chairs or keyboards. One project touched on nutritional choices as they evaluated the time it took French fries to decompose, when trans fats were still used to prolong shelf life.

As is true for other STEP staff and faculty, Barrett, an industrial engineer by training, is committed to promoting best practices of scientific observation and reporting, a priority developed in his earlier career researching MTBE, a gas additive found to degrade commercial tanks and contaminate the water table.

“Through STEP, we provide the leadership and the mentorship, and model lab standards in how to investigate in a scientific way,” said Barrett. “We teach students how to record data so it’s acceptable in the professional environment, and to minimize bias.”

Cycle of support

Professor Chris Thompson, who coordinates the BMCC STEP program, notes that while STEP students rely on faculty and staff mentors, those people, in turn, rely on support from the administrative level.

In particular, he thanks Associate Dean of Academic Affairs Michael Gillespie and Senior Vice President of Academic Affairs, Dr. Sadie Bragg for providing resources and classroom space necessary to house and staff the program.

“This is the first time we’ve had a first-place winner in Albany,” said Thompson. “It’s a good program because we’re trying to expose students who have been traditionally underrepresented in the sciences, to a career in science, and get them motivated in that.  We also assist students with taking the SAT, and we give them some extra class work in chemistry, physical, biology, math—English and speech, too.

Speech? As it turns out, to be successful in the sciences also means being able to write and speak well, which doesn’t surprise any engineer or scientist already working in the field.

“I guess they picked my project mainly because of the way I presented my poster,” said Fang, of his first win, in Albany. “I limited my poster presentation to three minutes, so I made it concise, and I also told them the process in which I made the electric motor.”

Moving forward, paying back

Fang’s chilled-out motor, having won the judges’ favor in Albany, earned him an invitation to participate in the 2010 New York City Science and Engineering Fair (NYCSEF) this past spring.

After making it through NYCSEF’s Preliminary Round at The City College of New York, Fang was among the top 25 percent of student researchers selected to participate in Finals Round held at the American Museum of Natural History, where he earned a third-place award in the category of engineering.

Henry Delgado, a graduate of BMCC’s engineering program who now works at the college as a project assistant in engineering, mentors the STEP students, and worked closely with Fang through his project’s development and competition process.

“We started collecting data, measuring temperatures, and then we went on to building an electric motor,” said Delgado. His colleague, Edgar Delgado, also a recent BMCC engineering alum, is now enrolled at City College and works as an assistant to engineering BMCC professor Mahmoud Ardebili. He, too, mentored Fang.

“I met with him on Fridays,” said Delgado, “His project was interesting, and I was dedicating more time to him.”

The cycle of support extending up through the ranks of a college, extends down through the layers of a student’s life. Fang, who moved with his parents to New York from China when he was five years old, gives the ultimate credit, to them.

“I basically learned American customs and traditions since I was a very young boy,” he said. “However, I still value my culture back in China. My parents are very supportive when it comes to me doing science projects, and they don’t pressure me, but I feel it’s my responsibility to do the best that I can, so in the future I can repay what they did for me.”

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  • Zhong "Janson" Fang, through the BMCC Science and Technology Entry Program (STEP) wins first place in statewide contest.
  • STEP gives underrepresented high school students the support they need to enter college science or technical programs.
  • BMCC mentors and faculty work closely with the STEP students, fostering their success.

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