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Garage Band
A team of students spend a year building a race car

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In a room in Kingsbury Hall that looks more like an auto shop than an engineering classroom, video cameras are mounted on the ceiling for safety—and to make sure that the students leave. On any given night, there might be half a dozen at work reconfiguring a motorcycle engine or puzzling over a design for intake manifolds. Welcome to the world of UNH's Precision Racing team, a group of mechanical and electrical engineering students who each year build a Formula-style race car from scratch.

"As much as anything, my role is to play 'den mother' to make sure no one is spending too much time on the car," says mechanical engineering associate professor May-Win Thein, who serves as the group's faculty advisor. "The students' intensity around this project is enormous."

The Precision Racing Team was formed in 2003 by a group of seniors who wanted to put into practice concepts they were learning in class. Today, most team members join their first week of college, though only seniors get class credit for the project.

It's a serious business. On top of their classes and homework, students spend some 50-60 hours apiece every week on the project, working in one of six subgroups. In the intense first half of second semester, most team members won't leave Kingsbury until their own cars are in danger of being towed due to the winter overnight parking ban. Hence the video cameras.

In May, if all goes well, Thein and the seniors will to the national Formula SAE contest in Michigan to line their car up against some 130 others in events that range from endurance to fuel economy to design.

The $20,000-30,000 cost of the car is offset partially by the College of Engineering and Physical Sciences' Student Project Fund, which supports team-based, multidisciplinary projects that promote the college's educational aims. Competing against teams that sometimes have five times their financial resources, UNH team members sell T-shirts, hold raffles and solicit external sponsors to extend their budget. Last year's team placed 41st in Detroit—UNH's best showing yet. But senior Daniel Madnick has even higher hopes for this year's team.

"We started planning and fundraising really early this year, which should give us time to do a lot of testing and refining," says Madnick. Graduate student Carin Campbell '09, last year's managerial captain, agrees. But whatever the outcome on the track, she says, the experience is unbeatable. "You really put to the test everything you learn about engineering, organization and fundraising, and the results are incredibly rewarding."

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