The Gyrobike is rolling off the production line — six years after a team of students in ENGS 21 tackled the eternal problem of learning to ride a bike. “This will really be the fun part: to finally get to see children out there riding the bike,” says co-creator Debbie Sperling ’06 Th’07, who is in medical school at the University of Michigan. “I have a lot of friends and family who are eager to finally give the Gyrobike a spin.” The stabilizing bike — heralded with a Breakthrough Award from Popular Mechanics in 2006 — was created by Sperling, Hannah Murnen ’06 Th’07, Nathan Sigworth ’07, and Augusta Niles ’07 in 2004.
“I think the Gyrobike’s success as a classroom-to-market project is really the success of the Thayer/Tuck entrepreneurship potential,” says Niles, pointing to the collaboration between the Gyrobike team and Errik Anderson ’00 Tu’07 and his venture capital firm, Seven West Ventures. “He was pivotal in bringing crucial media attention to the product and found Daniella Reichstetter Tu’07 to be the startup’s CEO in April 2007.” Reichstetter drew on her previous start-up and consumer-products experience with Method Home and Jetboil to lead the design through two years of product development. The original design used a disk to spin independently inside the wheel; modifications have revved up the speed of the disk, enabling it to create enough force — gyroscopic precession — to help stabilize a bike at a low speed. “The design improvements have been significant, and I think we are all quite proud of the product that is now available to buy,” says Murnen, who now focuses on the self assembly of biomimetic polymers as a grad student in the chemical engineering department at the University of California, Berkeley. The final product, which easily replaces the front wheel of standard kids’ bikes, comes with an enclosed, motorized disk and is available for $100 at thegyrobike.com. “Seeing children use the bike has always been the most satisfying part about this project,” says Niles, a modeling and simulation engineer at the Charles Stark Draper Laboratory in Cambridge, Mass. “But it is also great to know that all the team’s work on the product design and business proofing will all be worth it.
>> A few days after setting one streamliner motorcycle speed record at the Bonneville Salt Flats world finals last October with a 382-mph run, Charles Nearburg ’72 Th’74 pushed it even harder, averaging 394.1 mph and exiting the track at 402.9 mph. With this, the Spirit of Rett — named after Nearburg’s son, who died of cancer in 2005 — set a 392-mph record at Bonneville and became the first single-engine, normally aspirated car to go over 400 mph. Nearburg plans to return to Utah’s salt flats this summer with a new supercharged, 2,000-horsepower V-8 engine and break a 19-year-old 409-mph world speed record for wheel-driven cars. “Rett and I did a lot of gearhead stuff together — we rode dirt bikes and sport bikes together and built up a hot-rod Mustang,” says Nearburg. “His death was partly the catalyst that got me to think about what in life I hadn’t done. Every run I make, I feel him there with me.”
>> Thierry A. Blanchet Th’88, a professor of mechanical engineering at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, has been named a fellow of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, the highest elected grade of membership in ASME. Fellowship is conferred upon a member with at least 10 years of active engineering practice and who has made significant contributions to the profession. Blanchet is noted for his contributions in the area of materials tribology, particularly self-replenishing solid lubrication. His models of vapor phase lubrication have been adapted to DLC coatings and MEMS environmental tribology. He has chaired the ASME/Society of Tribologists and Lubrication Engineers’ International Joint Tribology Conference, serves as associate editor for the Journal of Tribology and Tribology Transactions, and has earned the National Science Foundation’s Young Investigator Award.
>> Ben Koons ’08 is a powerhouse on the slopes — when he’s not bringing a different kind of power to Africa. Koons, who appeared in the Winter 2009 issue of Dartmouth Engineer in a story about his efforts to bring hydro-power to the rural village of Banda, Rwanda, became the first male cross-country skier to represent New Zealand at the Winter Olympics. Ben, who was born in Dunedin, New Zealand, and moved with his family to Maine eight years ago, captained Dartmouth’s cross-county ski team while studying mechanical engineering at Thayer. After graduation, he and brother Nils Koons ’11, also a Dartmouth skier, embarked on some “altitude training” — a two-month cycling trek across Tibet.
>> Hypertherm, a top manufacturer of plasma cutting tools with almost 900 employees working in Hanover and Lebanon, has been feeling the international slowdown in the production of heavy equipment. Shipbuilders, auto manufacturers, the construction industry — any field that would use Hypertherm products to cut flat steel — have slowed production in the last year, and orders for the cutting systems are down 50 percent. But, as National Public Radio highlighted in November, the company is sticking to its no-layoff policy. It has put employees to work doing other things: ground maintenance, training, on a team to rejigger the production line. The goal is to emerge from recession in a better position to compete. “Once you have a highly skilled workforce, the last thing you want to do is lay them off,” says Dick Couch ’64 Th’65, the company’s founder and CEO and a Thayer School Overseer. “This isn’t altruism. It’s good business.” It’s probably also a reason why Business New Hampshire magazine recently named the firm the Best Large Company to Work for in New Hampshire.
>> John Ballard ’55 Th’56 has earned a Dartmouth Alumni Award for his extensive volunteer service to Dartmouth. In addition to leading his class as vice president and on its executive committee, the Los Altos Hills, Calif., resident has served on the Thayer Board of Overseers since 1989 and chaired it from 1998 to 2007. While chair, Ballard joined with fellow Thayer Overseers and a former chair of the Medical School Board of Overseers to form Angeli Parvi (little angels), a group of industry leaders who mentor aspiring Dartmouth entrepreneurs by guiding development of business plans and strategies. So far, the group has helped found, co-found, fund, or advise 10 companies, earning $1 million for Thayer in the process. “The real pay-off came as a pleasant surprise,” he says. “Most of these enterprises are largely run by recent Dartmouth graduates. They generally ask for guidance when they feel the need, generally accept the guidance, and then execute with amazing energy and skill. We really do produce graduates who can change how health science, energy storage, signal processing, and environmental issues are addressed, and all very much for the better.” Ballard’s advice for fellow alumni interested in giving back: “Try and help students and alumni in ways that require some hands-on time. You’ll be rewarded.”
>> Start-up SustainX Energy Solutions is trying to find better ways to compress and store air to help utilities take full advantage of intermittent sources of energy such as wind and solar power. As Ph.D. students, Dax Kepshire Th’06, ’09 and Ben Bollinger ’04 Th’04, ’08, with previous grad Troy McBride Th’01, began engineering and entrepreneurial work on SustainX, joining with Professor and Dean Emeritus Charles Hutchinson to launch the company.
“The initial vision was for an inexpensive, reliable, clean energy storage system to pair with wind and solar to allow these renewables to perform as reliable, totally clean non-intermittent energy generation technologies,” says McBride. Existing small- and moderate-scale energy storage technologies tend to be expensive, short-lived, and use toxic or rare materials. By using air, off-the-shelf industrial components, and core thermodynamic innovations, SustainX can cut costs and offer a long lifetime. SustainX’s novel approach allows higher efficiency and pressures, so air can be stored in off-the-shelf tanks rather than in underground caverns (the traditional method). To store energy, the SustainX system uses an electric motor driven hydraulic conversion system to isothermally compress and store air. To make electricity, the process is repeated in reverse; the air is released and run through the SustainX conversion system, turning an electric generator to make electricity. The team is aiming to pack a megawatt-hour worth of stored energy in a 40-foot-long container, says Kepshire. The company received $4 million in funding from Polaris Venture Partners and Rockport Capital last summer and $5.39 million from the U.S. Department of Energy in November to develop its technology and eventually deploy a full-scale demonstration of its method. The company spun out of Dartmouth last year and now employs 10 people at its site in West Lebanon, N.H. Says Bollinger, “Starting SustainX feels like having stepped aboard a roller coaster that keeps on going.”