Designing a Down Draft Table


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Just the start of a fresh school year and I am already set to undertake an exciting design opportunity at Larsen Motorsports. I was paired up with another intern to design and build a custom downdraft table that could be used in the composites lab or fabrication bay in the shop. We immediately set out to do some research and understand the operating mechanisms of such a table. They are meant for eliminating dust from a work area by sucking in the dust from tasks such as welding, sanding, plasma cutting etc. We looked at various tables available in the market and how much these tables cost (usually between $5000 – $12000 if you want a heavy-duty, industrial down draft table). Our goal was to build one that could fit within the budget allocated to us and use the raw materials that are readily available, either in the shop’s scrap metal collection, or material that could be purchased at the local home depot. We wanted to use steel for manufacturing because it is durable and can handle practically all metalworking, woodworking, and composites tasks.

I went home that day thinking of different funnel designs for the interior of the table. I was thinking of a way to optimize the space we had within the dimensions we had to work with. The table needed to be 4 ft by 2ft by 3 ft and had to be portable. Based on the dimensions, we calculated the interior space we had to work with. The next difficult part was to figure out what the interior needed to have. We definitely wanted a blower and a motor along with it to act as the vacuum that would suck the dust down. We also wanted a funnel-like structure to be able to direct the dust and form a closed hollow body so that every single dust particle was drafted into the table. However, the shape of the funnel was the tricky part. We needed to have enough space to fit in the dust drawer which collects larger dust particles, the filters which filter fine particles, and finally the blower.

So we decided to go with the following design shown below:


Funnel Design for the interior of the table



Final design

A chicken gage was to be placed in the rectangular cut-out and replaceable filters were to be inserted right behind it. The blower was to be mounted aft of the chicken gage. Once this design was created and approved by our supervisor, Mr. Tocci, we set-out to find the right blower to be used. We needed to perform CFM (cubic feet per minute) analysis to know how efficient the blower we purchase needs to be in order to function well with the internal size of the table and surface area of the table top. Eventually, a value of 2000 CFM was settled upon after a number of calculations and online research. This was also  a good value because a lot of the industrial blowers available offered this mode.

Next, we needed to figure out what to use for the top surface of the table. It obviously needed patterned holes so that there was an opening for the dust to be sucked in. But what was the best material to use, and what was the best way to make the holes? We agreed upon steel once again for the heavy shop work, and decided to use a rubber mat with holes cut into it to be used alongside the steel surface for composite work.  A rubber mat was purchased from Lowe’s that had the perfect dimensions for the table. However, we were still contemplating how to pattern the steel top.

Mr. Chris has purchased a decently large workshop table and we were going to use a third of the table as the exterior body of the table. Therefore, we decided to mark up the table to the dimensions needed, and chose to manually sketch the holes onto the table which we would later drill. Using a chalk-line and a sharpie, Muhannad and I spent most of a Wednesday afternoon drawing, erasing and re-drawing the pattern for the holes. We were simply unable to get them to be precise and follow vertical lines. Drilling through the table was going to be even harder because accurately drawing something is one matter, but accurately machining it is a whole new ball game.

The only work around to this was to either use a laser cutter, or to cut out the top surface and replace it with a ready-made steel that has holes cut into it. The latter seemed to be easier to attain. Expanded metal was the replacement we thought was best suited. So I spent about 3 hours and plasma cut the surface of the table one Friday afternoon. It was a totally new experience for me that I thoroughly enjoyed.

The next step was to build the funnel based on our design. However, taking a second look at the design we created, it seemed like a much more difficult way of building the funnel since it wasn’t a symmetrical shape and only had once slanted side. This would also case problems with placing the blower and filters and lower the efficiency of the blower because only one side of the interior was doing the whole task. So, we went back to Solidworks and re-designed the funnel shape so as to make it a symmetrical frustum. Now the lowest part of the funnel was going to have a slot for the filter in such a way that it was placed directly perpendicular to the flow of dust being sucked in. The dust drawer would then be directly below the filter, maximizing the use of the interior space.

new funnel

New funnel design


Designing “Dragonfly”

Hello everyone! Hope your summer’s going well!!

I’ve been good this week about staying on schedule. I mentioned my summer slump before but I can’t believe it’s going to be August soon!! I must really make the most of my time at home now. I must cram as much productivity as I can into my remaining days. I scoured the internet for ideas on what I could learn to CAD next. I had made tons of components in the past but they were singular, motion-dead components like turbine blades, or tractor wheels. I was looking for a bigger project; an assembly that needed more components to be put together, and that I could eventually animate. Since drones have been “in” for a while, with new designs coming out every day, I opted to learn to model a conventional drone so I could get a basic understanding of the design process. I figured out what materials I could use for different components, such as ABS plastic for propellers, aluminum for the electronic housing, copper for the wiring etc. Ideally, I’d have liked the parts to be made of carbon fiber or some sort of high-end composites because they’re strong and light-weight.

I modeled a quadcopter frame i.e. four arms, each connected to a brushless DC motor. The frame was roughly 850 mm in length. I went with a “X” configuration as opposed to a “+” configuration because I had designed the electronic housing to have screw connections at its corners.

electrical housing

The electronics housing


Another reason I chose a quadcopter is because of how easy it is to use the circular pattern feature on Solidworks for everything; once you have one component ready, all you need to do is copy that three more times and place them 90 degrees apart.



I just needed one spider arm modeled and the rest were patterned immediately


As you can probably tell, I was focusing more on the design aspect than the functionality aspect. I didn’t care too much about the electronics, but I just made sure they were there and looked good. In reality, my drone wouldn’t actually work unless a programmer came along, swapped my electronics board with a manufactured one, and helped me code the drone’s flight paths.

I named my drone “Dragonfly” (quite unoriginal, I know). I really, really want to have this 3-D printed at a smaller scale so I’ll think about getting that done when I head back to Melbourne. Here’s the final product:

drone final


I was skeptical as to whether I should get down into the nitty gritty and talk about the entire process, but I’m sure the technical terms don’t interest my readers so I chose to keep this one simpler. I have a short time lapse below that I recorded while assembling the drone. I do have a time lapse for the entire modeling time but it’s simply too long.  It exceeds a little over 8 minutes no matter how many frames I cut out, and nobody wants to watch that (I think).


Thank you for stopping by to take a look! Leave a comment, related or unrelated. See you soon 🙂


Sneak peek:

Is Engineering right for you?

Engineering, generally speaking, is right for you if you want to make things (I don’t mean you necessarily have to be a brilliant carpenter or metalworker, it can be more abstract than that)— if you’re fascinated to understand why a 250 ton plane can gracefully lift itself into the air, if you sit down at your computer and disappear into a programming trance until someone has to shake you lose, if you’re obsessively trying to improve how things work in your home, if you’re always saying that things would be better if you had a device that did [insert problem-solving device here] – yes, you may have an engineer’s predilection and should consider the field.

Here’s a cute little anecdote: I remember in grade one we had to do a project on a profession and I had created a scrapbook about the Wright brothers and their accomplishments. This was, of course, through the encouragement of my Dad, but so many years later and I can’t believe I’m doing this.

Other more technical reasons as to why you should consider engineering:

  1. Engineers need to be good at problem solving. Whether it’s a theoretical physics problem or a more hands-on problem, for example, why isn’t this remote-controlled UAV I built refusing to connect to the computer?
    problem or a more hands-on problem, for example, why isn’t this remote-controlled UAV I built refusing to connect to the computer?
  2. Engineers (good ones, at least) need to have a desire to learn. Engineering is not just about class knowledge. You are constantly learning new things, teaching yourself new things, researching new things. I, personally, have been striving to improve my programming skills and CAD skills. With the desire to learn comes the motivation to learn. (I just made that up, but I feel like someone has already said this).
    problem or a more hands-on problem, for example, why isn’t this remote-controlled UAV I built refusing to connect to the computer?
  3. Engineering requires love for math and sciences. Wait, it requires a *healthy tolerance* for math and science. No one expects you to be a regular Newton out of the womb – but if you’ve been in school for over fifteen years and basic algebra confuses you to the point of tears, engineering is probably not a good fit for you.
    problem or a more hands-on problem, for example, why isn’t this remote-controlled UAV I built refusing to connect to the computer?
  4. Ideally, you should be able to be decent at programming. Hold on – let me explain. Engineering requires taking complex problems and breaking them down into manageable parts. You need to be able to look at the big picture, formulate a plan of attack, and then be able to execute that plan in an organized fashion. You have to be able to troubleshoot methodically when something doesn’t work the way it should, and you need to have exacting attention to detail. In this sense, programming can be thought of as a model for some of the requirements of engineering. Oh, and be prepared to stare at an error message for hours on end, only to later realize you forgot a semi-colon.

problem or a more hands-on problem, for example, why isn’t this remote-controlled UAV I built refusing to connect to the computer?

Aerospace in particular? Well, you’d better have the ability to work on teams (not a good solo pursuit). And you’d better really, really want to build aircraft or spacecraft, because you will be suffering for your art— it’s not the easiest engineering career. Aerospace is somewhat unstable. Having kept up with the engineering world, I’ve read on news that projects are frequently cancelled arbitrarily by government customers, and employers feel like you need them more than they need you, and often treat you accordingly.


If you do get the chance, visit the National Air and Space Museum. So much to see and learn!

Aerospace engineers are generally either specialists in an aerospace specific topic like turbofan design or rocket engines or orbital mechanics, or are good generalists, focused on system design. Other people working in aerospace may actually have their degrees in mechanical, electronic, computer science, etc. So you can still be in the aerospace field by contributing indirectly in the creation of a space shuttle, aircraft, UAV, missile etc. There is always a need for an electronics team, or a budgeting team, or an information systems team.


Keeping the gears churning- Part 1


Nairobi (Source: BuzzKenya)

This is sort of like a journal, but for the purpose of sounding cooler, I’ll call it an Engineer’s log book. I’ve split it into two parts in the hopes that you’ll read all of it without thinking it’s super long.


It’s summer vacation and I’m back at home in Nairobi. It’s been two years since I first left to start my college education in the United States. Being home has been so liberating and I’ve never felt more relaxed. I’ve been home for nearly a month now and everything is sunshine and rainbows. In the first few days of getting here, laziness overcame me and I mostly did nothing besides lounging around, eating and sleeping. Well I guess that’s understandable given how long I’ve been away from family and how much I’ve missed being in my own room (hehe excuses). But after too many days of it, even my parents started getting irritated by how much I was not keeping myself occupied. Sure, I’d met up with a couple of friends and been about here and there getting reacquainted with Nairobi, but I wasn’t being “productive” is what they said.

I brushed off their worries and binge watched Westworld (an absolutely fantastic sci-fi thriller about the coming-of- age of Artificial Intelligence) which I’d first discovered on my flight home. I gotta say, HBO really knows how to do quality television. Game of Thrones remains unmatched and now we have Westworld to keep us occupied until the next season of Game of Thrones. Winter has arrived.

I think I went off on a tangent there. What I was really trying to say was that I struggled really hard to find something to keep myself busy with. I used to be so bored that I’d deep dive into YouTube and find myself in the most bizarre of places. From a girl trying to teach me how to contour my face, to dancing spiders, to a group of reckless boys jumping into a pool of dry ice. It seemed like everybody’s life was a roller coaster except mine. It was time to re-evaluate my goals and how I wanted to spend my summer. Then the unthinkable happened.




Read part 2 here.

Keeping the gears churning – Part 2

Continued from part 1:

I received an email from this tiny, little organization called AIAA (jajaja) telling me that I’d been awarded a prestigious scholarship from them. I had completely forgotten about my application to that award, and how long it had taken me to prepare the application package and get all the recommendations letter, essays, transcripts and certificates ready to be mailed to them. I had subconsciously assumed someone else probably won it and promptly dismissed my hope of winning it. But the email was right in front of me. I was overjoyed and my family celebrated by going out for some ice cream. That email was my easy pass towards more YouTube deep-diving and Netflix binge-watching.

A few days later…..

This time I had to seriously re-evaluate my life. I thought to myself, I have three months of invaluable time where I can accomplish anything I want, learn any new skill, and yet I’d rather waste time watching videos of dancing spiders on YouTube. I need to get out of this slump. I had registered for an online summer course at FIT which starts in July so I immediately decided to get a head start on it and started reading up.

But that was only one item on my To-Do list. I had to beef up my list. I had recently upgraded my laptop’s RAM and installed SolidWorks so I could use it at home. Previously, I could only access it on either school computers or LMS computers. I decided that I had to make time everyday to sit down and practice making more complex models. I began watching YouTube tutorials and following them closely to make easy mechanical components.

Some of the designs I created

I signed up on the SolidWorks forum and started asking questions on difficulties I faced (P.S no matter what you do, you can never extrude a surface. It must be a solid in order for you to customize it further. The surface knit function can come to your rescue.) I’ve learned so much since then, and I’ve become defter in finding my way around the 3D world of CAD. Eventually I hope to be able to design my own models of things like robot arms and rovers from scratch. I’m a long way away from that goal but I will get there.

The next thing I decided to focus upon was cooking. I will be moving off-campus and was soon going to be rid of a forceful meal plan. I would have the liberty of being able to prepare my own scrumptious meals. But I am a mediocre cook, specializing in quick fixes like instant noodles and microwaveable pasta. I wanted to learn real cooking. I started watching my mum as she would make different kinds of food at home and began following suit: her working one side while I followed what she did. In just one mother-daughter bonding session, I was able to make a simple dish called “Poha” which consists of lightly roasted rice puffs, sautéed with onions, a dash of lime, and sprinkled coriander. Fancy amirite?


Maybe I can survive cooking after all

Another goal of mine was to keep reading and writing. I want to keep my blog going and read as much as I can now that school is not keeping me busy with homework. I plan to read at least one book a week. Since I lost on three weeks already, I decided I had to read three books this week. I finished two novels already (The Handmaid’s tale by Margaret Atwood, and The Naked Face by Sidney Sheldon) and I’m onto the next one (It by Stephen King). I also intend on blogging as much as I can whenever I have something moderately interesting to talk about, or if I have any advice that I’d like to impart upon my readers  (all 47 of you hehe).

And lastly, I am going to be spending time with my family, such as bugging my little sister who currently has ‘A’ level exams. I have been so far away for so long that being home has given me a refreshing little respite from “being an adult”.

Thank you for reading! 🙂




It was an exciting weekend for motorsports fanatics with two of the largest motorsports events in the world taking place on the same day. Both the Indianapolis 500 and Formula One World Championship comprise of the two corners forming the “Triple Crown of Motorsport,” the third being the 24 Hours of Le mans. The events, billed as the Greatest Spectacles in Racing, yielded huge victories for unsuspecting teams; Takumo Sato became the first Japanese driver to win the 101st Indy 500, beating three-time Brazilian winner Castroneves, while Ferrari’s Sebastien Vettel raced to his second career victory in F1, ending a 16 year dry period for Ferrari. Ferrari could also rejoice in the fact that Kimi Raikkonen, Vettel’s teammate came in second, securing a one-two win, something Ferrari couldn’t show-off about for the last 130 races since 2010.



Indy cars are a “Spec Series”, where all the cars are built to the same specifications, varying between seasons due to the racing venue. The carbon fiber chassis is built by Dallara which all teams use, while the engines are built either by Honda or Chevrolet. But while the actual cars are the same, the aero kits are unique depending on the engine supplier. This means that sidepods, engine covers, rear wheel guards, and rear wing main planes provide teams with flexible development areas. In addition, the kits are different for varying road courses.

There is more room for innovation in F1 due to individual teams designing and manufacturing their own cars, following some standardized specifications, of course. Some may run with the same power units, gearboxes, brakes and all have the same Pirelli tires but the chassis, aerodynamics and numerous other internal parts are unique. Aero regulations are restricted by height, width and location boundaries. But within this small package of options, teams are free to do what they like.


The Indy cars are powered by 2.2-litre turbocharged V6 engines from Honda and Chevrolet, running on E85 Ethanol fuel. The engines can produce 550-700 bhp depending on the turbo boost, which varies from event to event. The engines are electronic direct fuel injected and rev to 12,000rpm. You see in many Indy car accidents where the car catches fire, all you see is the waves from the heat but no flames since ethanol burns “clear”. In this 2017 championship, Honda’s engine proved to be the better beast, beating Chevrolet by 18 points.

F1 entered a new era in 2014 with the introduction of 1.6-litre V6 turbo engines. They feature direct fuel injection and rev to 15,000 rpm. Overall the power units are made of the Internal Combustion Engine, turbocharger and Energy Recovery System. The engine suppliers include Ferrari, Mercedes, Renault and Honda, with Mercedes’ securing the title for the 2017 Constructors’ Champion.



Race Course:

Indy cars race across a variety of track types ranging from short ovals, super speedways, road courses and street courses around US, while Formula 1 races at purpose-built road courses and street circuits across the world. F1 cars never race on oval courses, and for this reason are built to have more aerodynamic grip (downforce) than Indy cars, built so to maneuver along the straight roads and corners in a typical F1 circuit.


Indianapolis Motor Speedway


Countries marked in green are those that have hosted a Grand Prix in 2017. Those in dark gray had hosted a Formula One Grand Prix in the previous seasons.


The debate for which vehicle is faster has been on-going, but my own (very serious) research indicates that an Indy Car is faster in its own Indy Car circuit and an F1 is faster around its own F1 circuit. As mentioned before, F1 cars have to go around tight corners, so they have much more downforce from their aerodynamics such as wings and diffusers. This causes extra drag which gives them a slower top speed. On the other hand, Indy cars are designed for oval circuits with minimal cornering, so they have a higher top speed than F1 cars. They can reach speeds of 240 mph (or 380 km/h) easily, while F1 cars normally attain speeds of 225 mph (or 330 km/h).

P.S: A Larsen Motorsports Jet Dragster is faster than both, reaching maximum speeds of 330 mph.


A Formula One car is definitely costlier to build, with a mid-tier car’s expense reaching a massive cost of approximately $200 Million! In comparison, Indy Cars cost up to an estimated $3 million. This means that over 50 Indy car teams can be easily bought for the price of one F1 car. An Indy Car uses parts that are basically off the shelf components — you can get your engine from either Honda or Chevrolet. The chassis are all made by Dallara and are all the same. The emphasis is on the maneuvering prowess of the driver. In contrast, an F1 race is all about the car. From a team’s view point, the drivers are simply rented out to complete the car. The one item that drives up costs more than anything is aerodynamics. Formula One cars are basically inverted airplanes i.e. the shape of the car is designed to suck the car down to the track.


Aerodynamics of a Formula One Car. It is often said that if you could get a Formula One car upside down in a tunnel at speed, it would stick to the ceiling.


While the Indy Car and Formula One are both different beasts, with different aerodynamics priorities, the races are equally intense and fun to watch. Which one do you prefer? Comment below with your thoughts!

Breaking Barriers


Belly up!

So Sunday April 2nd happened: Day 91/365. The best day of this year yet. I don’t think it’s a coincidence anymore that my favorite days are anytime I am interning for LMS jets.  The Melbourne air and space show took place from March 30th to April 2nd. A four day event and yet nobody would honestly mind if it went on longer. So here’s a recap of the last couple of days:


11 am: Constant buzzing of jets over the Florida Tech campus

12 pm: F-16s and alpha jets practicing for their performances for the show right above Florida Tech’s engineering buildings

7:14 pm: SpaceX launches previously flown Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral. I observed the launch from the parking garage right above the panther dining hall. Just another casual day; not like I was watching history being made.


Falcon 9 lighting up the night sky (Source: SpaceX)


8 am: Truck and trailer loaded and ready to haul the cars to the Melbourne International Airport

All afternoon: I could hear the roaring of the jets being flown while in my mechanics of materials lecture. If you went outside, you’d probably be able to see the Thunderbirds masterfully maneuvering their F-16 jets.

Side note: It totally doesn’t suck to study about analyzing stresses acting on turbine blades of a jet engine in mech of materials.


11 am: The Hurricane Hunters came to visit the shop, and we fired up one of the cars for them. They fly the massive C-130 right into the eye of hurricanes to collect weather data. Last year, they flew straight into hurricane Matthew and gathered data for the weather stations to predict the course of the storm.

All afternoon: Pretty much the same deal with all the fighter jets buzzing over us. Again, just another casual day in Florida Tech terms.


7:30 am: Drivers and crew meet at the event, bright and early, and caffeinated.

9 am: Crowds of people began to walk up to our set-up area and the interns split off talking to various people, explaining what we do, how the cars work, how fast they go, and any other questions the visitors have

12 pm: The crowds grew exponentially larger. Elaine and Dewayne, the two drivers, were constantly taking pictures and signing autographs for the fans. The air show began to kick in.


Dewayne explaining how the jet car works to the Hurricane Hunters



Elaine explaining how the afterburner works to the Hurricane Hunters

12:30 pm: Patrouille De France a.k.a the French team began their performance. It was absolutely breath taking. Their alpha jets seemed to fly wherever they were willed to. The precision with which the pilots carried out their aerobatic maneuvers seemed almost as though it was CGI. But it wasn’t. That’s the beauty of these high performance precision jets, with their highly trained pilots who’ve been doing this for most of their lives, albeit in rougher terrains. Oh yeah, the pilots are Air Force men.


Look at that finesse

Some background: Their fleet consists of 9 Dassault alpha jets, however the 9th plane is labelled “0” and acts as a spare. One of the 9 pilots is the Flight Leader. He leads the formation in the air but is not necessarily the pilot with the longest experience in the team. This makes the French aerobatic team unique because, in most of the other aerobatic teams in the world, the leader is always the pilot with the longest experience on the team. They are supported by 30 ground crew members who ensure the aircraft are in good working order. The last time they performed in the United States was in 1986; so it’s been three decades! But they put on quite a show nonetheless.

1:30 pm:  The T-6 Texans soared along under the hot Floridian sun.

2:00 pm: More people came to the Larsen motorsports set-up asking us whether we will race the car down the landing-strip. We couldn’t do that due to the risk involved, since the strip isn’t a race track designed especially for dragsters. The cars can go up to 330 mph in just 6 seconds; the risk would’ve been too high. However their disappointment was waved off when we told them that the J-85 engine that powers the car is exactly the same engine that is used in the twin-powered T-38 airplane owned by the Air Force.

3:00 pm: The F-18 a.k.a the Super Hornet, the stealth fighter renowned for its air-to-ground strike capabilities began its masterful flight and flew at speeds close to Mach 1.0, nearly breaking the sound barrier. The ground would shake every time it made a pass over the crowd. I felt power surge through me every time that happened because it’s hard to believe humans created such a powerful aircraft; to be able to feel the power these planes command during real-life air combat is simply awe-inspiring.

3:30 pm: The U.S Airforce Thunderbirds began their show. They had six F-16 fighter jets, exhibiting a mix of formation flying and solo routines. The pilots performed approximately 40 maneuvers in a single demonstration. The only other team coming close to their performance was the French team. While the Thunderbirds lived about to their names and thundered over the Melbourne crowd, the French team demonstrated a finer performance.


The U.S Air Force Thunderbirds (Source: Space Coast Daily)

7:00 pm: The V.I.P after party began. The interns from Larsen Motorsports got to talk to all the pilots from the various teams, such as the Thunderbirds, the Patrouille De France, Hurricane Hunter etc. Then Elaine Larsen fired up her jet car and wowed the crowd with how much power those jet engines generate. The whole hangar lit up with the light from the fire coming out the back of the afterburner. The flames went nearly 40 feet up in the air! The French team was so impressed with the jet dragster and couldn’t stop talking about it.

Sunday:  Pretty much the same deal all day, except there was a feeling of nostalgia as it was the last day for the air show. It was a very emotive moment for a lot of viewers when the P-51 and the F-35 were performing together and they parted ways for the last time, defining a generation of aviation technology.

Comics and Alter Egos

[ Cue music: “Bad girls” by M.I.A ]

So picture yourself working for a company that has its own superhero comic! I was so astounded when I found out about the Blaze comic that was being written by interns at Larsen Motorsports, with the main character being based off of Elaine Larsen herself.


Meet the Team:

From left to right: Emily, Elaine, Jeannie,

Sitting: Kat and Nitro

So here are brief origin stories of the comic team:

Elaine Larsen (or the real-life version of Tony Stark as I like to say): Elaine has been driving Jet Dragsters for over 15 years. She came up with the idea of Blaze literally while blazing down the race track at 280 miles per hour. One day a little girl came up to her after one of her races and asked her whether the fire suit she had on was her “Super Suit.” And that was the beginning of the era of Blaze.


Name: Halley Sparx
Alias: Blaze
Real-life Motivation: Elaine Larsen
Planet: Earth

Emily York: She is the author of Blaze (and a fellow classmate *ahem*. Not that I’m showing off.) She is a junior studying Mechanical Engineering at Florida Tech. She says that she eventually wants to get into ride engineering, for example working as an engineer for theme parks and ride systems. So I asked the obvious question, “How did you get so good at writing then?” Engineers are well known to be good at math and programming. Being talented in an art is a rarity in our kind (*ahem* I promise I’m not showing off again). Emily started writing comic books in high school as a part of the Creative Writing course she took. She found that she really had a knack for the comic-verse and enjoyed creating fantasy worlds. So when she was offered the chance to write Blaze, she dove into the world of Elaine and all the madness it can sometimes entail (trust me, I know; that superhero party was nothing short of extraordinary.) So here with Emily, we have a Joss Whedon in the making. Man, the force is strong, as is the girl power.

Jeannie Parker: She is the illustrator of the comic book. In middle school, one of her friends started drawing anime characters and she was really jealous so she started drawing too (Don’t you love it when you get good at something purely out of spite? Jk. But I got good at programming out of spite because my cousin always told me it’s “not meant for girls”). By high school, Jeannie was drawing fancomics and it soared from there. Current Events (as narrated by her): Living in Rockledge, FL, with two rocket scientists who suffer from a compulsive need to explain the wiring of Christmas lights, but who are very helpful for getting up-close views of NASA launches and explaining how afterburners work. Previous jobs on the resume include ice-cream-scooper-person in the British town of York, and receptionist/bartender at an ice rink. My main hobby is playing rec league ice hockey; it’s my own version of the dragster racing rush.

Kat Redner: Another racer in the making! I know for a fact she likes to drive fast because she has a beautiful deep-blue colored mustang that I’m so jealous of. And her dragster is equally perfect. She is the newest member of the racing team at Larsen Motorsports. She is in charge of marketing and promo. She does a great job and I love working with her. In fact, the credits to the pictures in this blog go to her. She is also a student at Florida Tech, studying multi platform journalism and has been interning at Larsen for well over a year. Be prepared to see more of her on TV!

So what was the motivation behind the creation of this comic? Well, the comic is a medium of blending education with fun. It is the perfect way to get high schoolers interested in pursuing higher education in STEM. It is a way to bring what Larsen Motorsports has been doing for over 15 years to a new audience and getting the next generation excited about high-performance automotive vehicles. What’s the comic story line? I’m allowed to spill a few beans about the plot of the comic, so here goes: It’s about a girl named Halley Sparx who is taken under the wing of Max and is introduced to the world of jet dragster racing. Halley’s main concern is making sure she wins her races and beats her ultimate enemy Dylan Burns. Or so she thought. That is, until her world is spun upside down when the girls on her crew team confess that they have other-worldly origins. Or in simpler terms, they are humanoid aliens from other exoplanets and have superpowers. They claim that only came to Earth to recruit Halley because she is different and an outcast just like the rest of them. Going forward, we will be seeing intergalactic travel including learning space science topics such as black holes, worm holes and the fabric of space-time.

Selection from the comic:

b6751e_259ce5b5889c487ea98ca935a439967c-mv2_d_5864_4316_s_4_2I love this particular page of the comic because it clearly shows the intense engineering aspect of working for a jet dragster team. Just look at that engineering sketch of the chassis that Jeannie drew *insert heart eyes*. I just think it is absolutely perfect.


The man in the picture is Halley Sparx’s mentor, Max, and is based off of Mr. Chris. However, he doesn’t play the role of her love interest in the comic. Side note: The helmet is painted like a galaxy; I just love the aesthetic of all the drawings Jeannie did.


The comic debuted on March 9th of this year, which was also the birthday of the wonderful Mrs. Elaine Larsen. There was a superhero party to celebrate this major occasion. It was a cosplay event and everybody came dressed to kill. I mean figuratively, but if this was fiction, hell yeah I could kill! I came dressed as Hermione Granger, surely a force to be reckoned with. I even brought along my wand, lest my cosplay was questioned. Mr Brian Tocci came dressed up as Captain America, with his own hand-crafted indestructible Vibranium shield. It was quite the masterpiece. His choice was rightly so because as the Director of Operations, his job is closest to what Captain America goes through when avenging the world. Remember the scene in the Avengers movie where Captain America is fighting off the bad guys and he instructs the cops to block of certain areas and they question his authority? And then remember how a swarm of aliens attacks him and he swats them away like flies, while the cops run to do as commanded? Well, that’s basically a regular day in Mr. Tocci’s life. And while we’re making analogies, Mr. Chris Larsen, who was dressed as Captain Chaos certainly picked his superhero aptly because he is just the right balance of being the man in charge, but also being the kind-hearted jolly man that he is, looking after his rag tag team of misfits.  And of course, the real superhero of the party, Mrs. Elaine was dressed as her alter ego, Blaze, the star of the comic and of the evening.

Picture gallery:

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Pretty in Grease

I’ve wanted to post this one for a while but it just didn’t seem perfect enough to me. I had to keep going back and modifying it and shortening it and then deciding to add more details AND THEN changing my mind all over again. This has been a hectic week. I had a bunch of exams, and work seemed to be taking a toll on me. But focusing on the present, I need to change the way I do things so that I can be productive, but at the same time not wear myself out to the point of utter exhaustion. Anyone has any ideas how you can fit in sleep, work, lectures, research, interning and meetings all in one day?

I’m sorry for this unenthusiastic prologue. Every college student has to go through “hell week” a.k.a mid-term week.

So my topic for today:


No, it isn’t “that” kind of training. I wasn’t receiving first aid training or something humdrum like that. This was actual jet dragster race day training!!! This was some pretty serious business. All interns that want to help out at a racing event, like NHRA nationals, have to complete this training.


The day started off with some presentations and they went as they always go, interesting at first and then your attention span follows a projectile trajectory into the abyss of nothingness (c’mon, it was still pretty early in the day). I guess I was restless because I really wanted to get up and get my hands dirty. I was excited to do hands on work, like learning how the J-85 jet engines are maintained and repaired. However, the presentations were important because they set out the groundwork for the real stuff that followed. I remember a lot of “racing” terms being introduced that I didn’t realize could even be used in that context.

Obligatory list:

  • Christmas Tree: Not an actual Christmas tree. DUH. Akin to a traffic light, it is a flashy electronic device between the lanes of the racetrack. It displays a calibrated countdown for each driver. Staging lights are placed on the very top of this tree to indicate where a vehicle is located in relation to the actual starting line.
  • Water box: Not an actual box of water. This is the area of the race track where wheel drive cars begin their burnout procedure.
  • Tower: Building at the race facility that is the center of racing operations.
  • Puke Tank: Not what it sounds like. This is the tank where excess fuel from the engine and afterburner manifold is redirected.
  • E.T: Not an actual extraterrestrial*. It’s short for elapsed time, which is the time it takes for a vehicle to travel from the starting line to the finish line.

There were many more terms but I’m not going to go down that track (pun intended).

End of Obligatory list.

*Did you read about the 7 Earth-like planets discovered orbiting about a star they named TRAPPIST-1? It’s amazing how vast the universe is and we don’t even know what’s going on in a tiny speck of space-time.

Once the PowerPoint presentations were completed and the safety rules read and re-read, we were ushered towards the dragster bay. Each dragster has its own trailer assigned to it. Rule 1: What gets taken out of a trailer must be put back into the same trailer.

Mr. Brian, Director of Operations, went over the layout inside a typical trailer such as where the various tools are located like the air tank and chassis pillows, what switches you can and cannot flip, how a race car must be positioned inside the trailer and held down with straps, the secret spot where the trailer keys are hidden etc. I had fun using the hydraulic system installed in the trailers to raise the entire trailer to enable it to be towed.

Later, Mr. Chris Larsen came over and went over the parachute packing procedure. Each car has two tiny parachute cans, one for the primary chute which is to the left of the driver and one for the reserve chute which is to the right of the driver. The parachutes are stored in bins and are taken to the racing venue. They are not packed in the dragster the night before. Whoever does the packing has the driver’s life directly in their hands. These cars run at a speed of 300 mph in a mere 5 seconds. That is insanely fast. The safety systems installed have to be properly examined. There are many videos on YouTube of jet dragsters whose parachutes have failed to deploy properly, or delayed during deployment. Larsen Motorsports is very serious about safety; every aspect that can directly affect a human life is inspected carefully by the supervisors present.


A parachute is the primary way to bring the car to a stop. Stepping on the brakes would lead to a crash. [Source:]

Let the packing begin: This is usually a two person job. They need to be carefully extracted from their bins and laid out behind the cars. They are first bolted on to the parachute mounts located next to the chute cans at the back half of the car. The next step is folding the parachute; the panels of a chute are folded in a particular manner such that riser lines touch each other. Once a pile of panels is ready, it’s folded in half along its length and is ready to be packed. The cans are inspected for burrs (uneven edges that could potentially rip the parachute apart) and exposed screws (which need to be covered with duct tape). Did I mention that the cans are tiny? In order for the whole parachute to fit in, it needs to be folded in an “S” shape, like laffy taffy. It is then locked in place using a release strap.


team work makes the dream work

We went over this procedure over and over again, until the steps were ingrained in our brains. My hands felt pretty tired because stuffing the parachutes inside those tiny cans is so tough. I loved every part of the training though: I got to work with the rest of the interns and learned so much about race cars. I’m soon going to be a NHRA trivia buff.

There was another full day of training and I’ll be writing all about that in my next post. I just want to prevent my posts from getting too long because I tend to do that. I had to cut off so much even when editing this post, because it got way too complicated and wordy.

Thank you for stopping by 🙂

The perfect composite

So my second post got a lot more technical a lot quicker than I expected. Trigger warning: CHEMISTRY.

I’ve already made my very own composite! Just my second week at Larsen Motorsports and I was stationed at the Composites Lab, which is every bit as cool as it sounds. Every chemical and tool in that lab was pretty alien to me. Mr. Glenn A. Klugel, the Composites expert, gave me a brief1 overview of the kind of work he carries out for Larsen Motorsports. Amidst the explanation of designing the perfect composites for the jet dragsters, a lot of complicated chemistry terms were casually tossed at me. Most of the chemical processes went right over my head the first time, but as we went ahead and prepared our own fiberglass composite, the terms started to mold into meaningful shapes in my mind (see what I did there?). I shall try and simplify the technical words as much as possible here.

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So what is a composite? It is exactly what the word says. It is a material made from two or more materials that have different chemical and physical properties, that when combined, produce a material with characteristics different from the individual components. The different materials forming a composite don’t fully merge or dissolve into one another, and remain quite separate and distinct. The new material provides a host of benefits: it may be stronger, lighter, less expensive, radar-transparent, corrosion resistant, low maintenance etc. Google tells me that a fancy term for composites is Fiber-Reinforced Polymer (FRP). So I’ll be telling my friends I work with fiber-reinforced polymers at my internship.

Other terms you’ll need to know as you read my blog: (please don’t be discouraged, I have cool pictures to show)

Resins: glue; usually blue tinted since this color looks clear to the human eye once hardened; we worked with a brownish-tinted one; Glenn wasn’t too thrilled about that.

Gelcoat: shiny, pretty, smooth, cosmetic glue. Used on the part of the surface that people will look at.

MEKP 30 (good for summer temperatures): A catalyst that speeds up the reaction which would otherwise take forever to reach completion; never ever clean your hands with this2 because it can seep right through your hands leaving a hole.

Polyester molds: used to shape the composite material itself

Male or positive mold: Used to shape the mold. A mold for the polyester mold, if you will.

We started my first composites lab session with an experiment to figure out what percent of [catalyst:resin] is going to be ideal for the rtp (room temperature and pressure) conditions we were working in. Mr. Glenn has been in this industry for nearly 40 years and working in the Sunshine State means working in 80 F and higher temperatures. For a long time he worked with producing surfboards3, and not having the luxury of a lab setting, he would set up shop exposed to the unforgivingly hot and humid environment of Florida. This meant that he would need to ensure the right ratios of chemicals to mix every time he got to work. This meant re-doing the calculations every time the weather changed because the chemicals employed are highly sensitive to temperature and the rate of reaction proceeds in direct correlation with temperature. He explained to me that making composites is a highly calculative and detailed effort because so many factors come in to play. For example, if a composite needs to be prepared relatively quickly, then a lot more catalyst is needed so that the bonds between the resin and the fiberglass can form quickly. However, this means that the composite is more brittle than if it was prepared with a smaller percent of catalyst. Less catalyst means the reaction occurs for longer. This means the bonds between molecules have more time to form, resulting in a stronger product. Yes, lots and lots of chemistry. But seeing it in action makes everything worth it.

Mr. Glenn had a work area already set up where he had spread out gelcoat that was beginning to dry, which meant we could move on to the next step: preparing the fiberglass core. The core is made of three layers of fiberglass mats, each measuring 12×2 inches. These needed to be stacked on top of each other and held down by resin. Preparing the resin correctly was the goal of our experiment. We were trying to determine the correct MEKP 30: Resin ratio such that the mixture would harden in about 30 mins to 1 hour. We started off with a batch of 6% MEKP in the resin and applied it to the stack of fiberglass. Mr. Glenn is a strong believer of conserving the tools and chemicals available for use so we were very careful to make sure that just the right amount of resin was used. A flat roller was used to spread the resin evenly over the surface. I was also taught the ‘shadow technique’4 to identify any unwanted, pesky little air bubbles in our otherwise perfect composite material.

While the reaction in batch #1 was taking place, we went back to the fume hood to prepare batch #2. This time he chose to double the percent of MEKP, deciding to use 12%. I was told to prepare the resin this time, and I cautiously did the needful. Then we went back to the workbench and poured the resin on a second stack of fiberglass mats. Once all the resin was emptied from its container, the container was placed upside-down on the bench because the catalyzing reaction releases cyanide gas as a by-product. Thankfully, we both had our gas masks, safety goggles and gloves on. We then decided to take a break from the fume-y atmosphere of the lab.

One hour later…

We wore the necessary protective equipment again and went back into the lab. The first composite made from batch #1 still hadn’t hardened and dried completely. It still felt a little tacky to the touch. The second composite made from batch #2 was perfect and ready to go. Mr. Glenn wrote down the data and calculations that he would need to use the next time he was working with the same chemicals, and I was tasked with clearing away all the tools. The rollers were dipped in acetone so that the resin could be broken down and washed away from the ridges. The gas masks were labelled and stowed away. The MEKP was stored in the flame cabinet. Like I said, Mr. Glenn is very particular about tool etiquette and he made sure I followed the proper lab protocols after the experiment was done and dusted.

1 He claims it was brief but I was struggling to even pronounce some of the names of the chemicals in that room

2 Glenn is full of amusing anecdotes. He told me a story about his dad who worked for Pratt and Whitney in the sixties. His dad and his crew built rockets and blew them apart for experimentation purposes. And after every “experiment” they would gather the blown up rocket pieces to reassemble them. But first, the parts needed to be de-contaminated and MEKP 30 was the go-to hand soap. So his dad would be cleaning the various nuts and bolts with this chemical that one must not breathe next to without a respirator, let alone make contact with the skin. People back then were quite daring and adventurous.

3 Glenn likes to call these “Indestructible eggshells”

4 All you have to do is use your hands to block light and create shadows from different angles to locate air bubbles.


Congratulations to you if you made it to the end of this post! Thanks for stopping by 🙂