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A New Path Forward

(From left to right) James Suh, Penn Scott, and summer contributor Miguel Roman shown working in Building C-2, as part of Lehigh's Mountaintop Campus Development initiative.

Beginning in the 1960’s, the former Bethlehem Steel research facilities helped drive innovation and scientific discovery before closing nearly 25 years later. Today, a $20 million gift from Scott Belair ’69 is allowing Lehigh to bring 120,000 square feet of that untapped space on mountaintop campus back to life, providing an integrated learning environment where students can explore, collaborate and create in the same mixed-use space.

Penn Scott ’13 and his Xiphias team saw potential in the set-up and, by the summer of 2013, had moved into the open facility to begin researching automotive aerodynamics, support structures and powertrain systems. Their hope was to influence the design and engineering of high-performance cars.

“By the time Building C-2 opened for the summer pilot program, James [Suh] and I had already spent several months pulling together the foundations of our car design,” says Scott, who co-founded the team with Suh. “We'd been grinding out models and sketches late into each night, using nightstands for desks, cramped between our computers and his closet.”

Not even a year later, the students are seeing results.

“Beneath the skin of the Xiphias Concept vehicle, there is now the world's first purely topology-optimized automotive chassis— showcasing the promise that computational simulation offers in the development of super-efficient structures,” Scott says. “Without our experience with Mountaintop over the summer, we simply would not have had the chance to pursue such a radical, immersive end goal.”

One of several pilot programs at Mountaintop, the members of the Xiphias team have different academic interests. Scott, an IDEAS (Integrated Degree in Engineering, Arts and Sciences) major, and Suh ’14, a design major, are joined by econometrics analyst and finance major Marcus Risland ’14.

Work is continuing on the Xiphias concept this spring. Suh will lead the ergonomic development of the interior space and Miguel Roman ’14 will pursue the ideal fuel cell for the car—work that will round out his engineering thesis. Robert Vargo ‘14 plans to further explore the model’s aerodynamic possibilities.

To Scott and his colleagues, the Mountaintop Experience demonstrates the kind of intellectual exchange that makes Lehigh a true learning community.

“There's a fine line that an open workspace like C-2 must tread, between offering teams a chance to build off each other’s enthusiasm while leaving room for their privacy, and the building's unique setup walked it quite gracefully,” says Scott. “We had a blast exchanging ideas with groups building refugee shelters or augmented reality spaces as we raced forward designing a supercar concept.” 

Posted on Tuesday, January 14, 2014

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