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AZLoop a high-speed gateway to space for ASU mechanical engineer

July 5, 2018

ASU hyperloop team gears up to head to SpaceX competition in California this month

High-speed transportation technology for hyperloop seemed like a good first step for an Arizona State University mechanical engineering student who someday wants to help colonize the galaxy.

Leann Scott, who will graduate next spring after just three years of school and who will spend her fourth year as a master’s degree student, joined ASU’s AZLoop hyperloop team last year as a member of the propulsion team. This year, she wanted to move into manufacturing and was elected to be that team’s lead. 

A longtime Star Trek fan, Scott believes that “the final frontier” will involve putting people on other planets, and that hyperloop technologies can help get them there.

“The next phase of rocket and aircraft construction will switch from aluminum to composites like carbon fiber and fiberglass — exactly the kinds of materials we’re working with for hyperloop design,” Scott said.

Hyperloop is a conceptual high-speed transportation system that would use pressurized tubes to send passenger pods between cities at speeds up to 700 miles per hour. AZLoop will head to SpaceX in Hawthorne, California, next week to compete their design against nearly 20 other collegiate teams.

For this year’s competition entry, the manufacturing team wanted to minimize weight and add stiffness to the chassis and pod designs with more extensive use of lightweight carbon fiber, but didn’t have the needed expertise. Josh Bowen, the AZLoop president, told Scott that if she needed outside expertise, she’d have to go out and find it.

She reached out to Composites One, a leading composites distributor in the aerospace and transportation industries. Two weeks later, the company sent a technical expert from its Southern California office to work with AZLoop on design and processing strategies, a commitment that has continued for five additional trips. Two engineers from the Phoenix office are regular advisers during the team’s Friday-night work sessions. “(They're) both here getting their hands dirty and making sure we don’t mess it up,” said Scott with a laugh.

“Our entire team learned resin infusion techniques,” she said. “Composites One helped us create prototypes and build practice molds, working with us to figure out how the battery box, electrical wiring and propulsion components would fit into the design.

“These problem-solving and implementation experiences will give us a major advantage when we hit the job market.”  

Video by Ken Fagan/ASU Now

A third-generation engineer — both her parents are electrical engineers and her grandfather was a chemical engineer — Scott said she was taught from an early age to look at a problem and figure out how to proceed: “When I was 6, our Slip 'N Slide was missing a part, so I figured out how to make it work by connecting the hose to the slide using duct tape and a funnel.”

Scott graduated from Perry High School in Gilbert, Arizona, and said being the oldest of three siblings gave her some good team-management skills, as does guidance from her father, a team manager at Intel.

But Scott also credits teammate Pamela Lombardi, a former Marine, with helping keep the team on track. A robotics senior who served as a helicopter mechanic while in the service, Lombardi also has been invaluable in troubleshooting circuit, mechanical and wiring systems.

“I think both of us can be pretty intimidating,” said Lombardi. “Together, we’ve been pretty successful at getting the team to listen.”

The team’s next goal is to test all systems in the assembled pod on the 150-foot track and in the 25-foot pressure chamber on ASUs Polytechnic Campus. One other U.S. team has a track, but it's only 50 feet long — too short to test braking systems. AZLoop is the only U.S. team that has a pressure chamber.

"The facilities at ASU give our team a tremendous advantage as we head to Hawthorne," said Scott.

Scott remains resolute that her work on hyperloop is a fast track to space.

“Humanity’s efforts in space have taught us about water purification, climate change and, by studying astronauts when they return to Earth, osteoporosis and disease immunity. Technological advances happen when we’re focused on exploring.”

SpaceX hyperloop competition

Originally introduced in 2012 by founder Elon Musk, SpaceX is hosting the third annual collegiate competition in Hawthorne, California. ASU’s team, which completed all of the safety and operation tests in last year’s competition and ranked as a top-rated team, is one of 11 U.S. teams out of 18 overall vying for a finalist spot in the tube.

Since 2012, proposed routes from Toronto to Montreal, Chicago to Columbus to Pittsburgh, and Abu Dhabi to Dubai, among others, are in development. Virgin Hyperloop One has a full-scale, 500-meter test track, known as DevLoop, in the Nevada desert.

AZLoop Pod Unveiling

What: AZLoop will display its 2018 competition pod for students, faculty and the general public.

When: 6 p.m. Monday, July 9.

Where: ASU Student Pavilion, 400 E. Orange St., Tempe.

Details: Registration requested.

Top photo:  AZLoop team members Leann Scott (left) and Pamela Lombardi tack on foam guides to the base of the carbon-fiber chassis at ASU's Polytechnic campus on June 22. With the system design plans finished and all the parts ordered, the group of ASU students, with support from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, will take the vehicle to Southern California for the July 2018 SpaceX hyperloop competition. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Terry Grant

Media Relations Officer , Media Relations and Strategic Communications


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Is the world a safer place than it was on 9/11?

July 6, 2018

Yes and no, says Nicholas Rasmussen, leader of the new Counterterrorism Program at ASU's McCain Institute

The world can be a scary place.

Perhaps no one knows this better than Nicholas Rasmussen, senior director of the new Counterterrorism Program at Arizona State University's McCain Institute for International Leadership.

Rasmussen assumes his new role with clear program goals: to increase public capability to meet the risk to our national security posed by extremists, to forge new international partnerships, and to train the next generation of young counterterrorism professionals.

ASU Now spoke to Rasmussen, who joined ASU last month, to discuss the institute’s mission and guiding philosophy, and action-oriented solutions. We also got him to answer the $1 million question that nags most Americans: Is the world a safer place than it was on 9/11?

Question: Is the world a safer or more dangerous place to live than it was when 9/11 happened?

Answer: If you are thinking globally, I don’t think that there is any question that the world is a more complicated and potentially dangerous place than it was at the time of 9/11. Today, the pool of extremists — terrorists and potential terrorists — is wider, deeper and more geographically dispersed than it was in 2001. The rise of the Islamic State, or ISIS, caused terrorism to spread to more places and to touch more populations than what we saw when al-Qaida was our primary terrorism concern.

In thinking about terrorism here inside the United States, the homeland, I believe that we are in many ways quite a bit more safe today than we were at the time of 9/11. Our defenses are stronger and more robust, our ability to identify and disrupt potential terrorists is far more developed and getting stronger all the time, and our terrorist adversaries have suffered significant losses in their capability due to our counterterrorism work around the world. I would never say never, but I believe it’s increasingly unlikely that a foreign terrorist organization could manage to carry out inside the United States the kind of large-scale, mass-casualty attack we experienced on 9/11. The attacks that are the most likely today typically involve lone actors with a relatively low level of training and capability. Those individuals are often inspired by ISIS and al-Qaida to carry out terrible acts, but these acts are of a different magnitude than what we experienced on 9/11.

Q: Is terrorism a bigger problem today than it was in other decades?

A: From my perspective, the problem is bigger today than in other decades because modern communication tools and technology have made it much easier for terrorist organizations to identify and recruit new extremists to join their cause and their movement. In many cases, a terrorist group like ISIS or al-Qaida can interact in only the most limited way with an individual around the world and still manage to turn that person into a potential terrorist who poses a real threat. Terrorists also operate today in a world that is in many ways without borders. Terrorists have always benefited from physical safe havens in ungoverned spaces around the world, but increasingly, the safe haven they enjoy can be in the virtual or cyber world.

Q: What are the most effective tools in combating terrorism?

A: An effective counterterrorism strategy requires a truly whole-of-government approach that draws upon many different kinds of tools. The collection of good intelligence is required in order to understand terrorist intentions and capabilities. Collecting that intelligence requires that we work in close cooperation with partner countries all around the world. When appropriate, we share terrorism-related intelligence with those partners, and we rely upon them to do the same.

Similarly, effective counterterrorism strategy requires that we have the highly developed military capabilities we need to locate and disrupt potential terrorists before they act. The effort to kill or capture the terrorists most threatening to the United States and its citizens remains a centerpiece of our counterterrorism strategy. At the same time, we also rely heavily on our law enforcement community to collect intelligence, prosecute individuals who have committed terrorism-related crimes, and to ensure that our terrorism-related laws are vigorously enforced.

Effective terrorism strategy also demands that the United States develop and maintain strong diplomatic partnerships and relationships around the world. The United States is always more effective — militarily and diplomatically — when it is acting in concert with other nations that share our interests in combating terrorism.

Lastly, effective counterterrorism strategy has an important soft-power component. We must always strive to address the conditions that give rise to conflict around the world and that feed extremism. Particularly here inside the United States, we must also do a better job of giving communities and local authorities the tools and knowledge that they need to recognize the presence of extremism and potential terrorism. The federal government is an important actor, but by no means the only important actor, in the effort to keep Americans safe from terrorism here at home.

Q: What will your role at ASU be as the new director of the McCain Institute’s Counterterrorism Program, and how do you see this role complementing or continuing your past work? 

A: My goal at the McCain Institute is to find new and innovative ways to add value to our national counterterrorism efforts. There are some terrorism tasks that fall exclusively to the federal government, particularly the intelligence and military work that our counterterrorism professionals do around the world and here at home. At the same time, as I left government service after 27-plus years, I was convinced that there is room for purpose-driven organizations like the McCain Institute to help build additional counterterrorism capability here at home and around the world. My challenge will be to identify those opportunities to make a difference in the never-ending effort to keep Americans safe from the threat of terrorism.

Q: What attracted you most to the McCain Institute and ASU as a potential platform for your counterterrorism work?   

A: The McCain Institute was founded on the idea that we have an obligation to demonstrate character-driven leadership on national security issues and to develop real, practical solutions to the national security problems that we face at home and around the world. Pursuing that vision is truly important to me. At the same time, the McCain Institute’s affiliation with ASU is an extraordinary source of strength and comparative advantage, given the amazing breadth and depth of resources available to the ASU community. In my very short tenure, I have identified and begun to develop numerous potential partnership opportunities with individuals and organizations all across the ASU universe. That is genuinely exciting to me, and I look forward to learning even more about the amazing array of important work going on in Phoenix, in Tempe, in Washington, D.C., and indeed anywhere where ASU operates.  

Top photo courtesy of the McCain Institute for International Leadership

Reporter , ASU News