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Electrical engineering student helps car set new land speed record

If you're a car enthusiast, you may have seen New Mexico State University student Sandra Saldivar's name in the news recently.

Sandra Saldivar, a New Mexico State University engineering student, helped the GM Performance Division set a new land speed record at the Bonneville Salt Flats. (Photo courtesy of GM)

r and two other female student interns worked with the GM Performance Division this summer on the Student Project Cobalt SS, which set two land speed records during Bonneville Speed Week at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah.

Three students building a car that can go 172 mph is news, but what really caught the eye of newspapers like the Toronto Star and auto industry blogs as far away as Italy is that the students built the car to run on E85 ethanol.

On Aug. 17, the Student Project car used E85 fuel to reach 163.608 mph, shattering a 19-year-old record in the G/FCC Class (G Class/Unblown Fuel Competition Coupe). The next day the car broke another record using E85 and nitrous oxide to reach a blistering 172.680 mph.

Saldivar, an electrical engineering and mathematics major who was born in El Paso and raised in Chaparral, worked with mechanical engineering students from Purdue and Virginia Tech for 12 weeks to get the car ready for Speed Week, Aug. 12-18.

She said it took a while for the team to realize what an accomplishment they had made when their car broke the record.

"At first it didn't really sink in until we broke it again with the nitrous and E85. Then I was excited because I helped wire the nitrous system with all the calibrations," Saldivar said. "I can't really explain it, it was just something amazing."

She was responsible for the Cobalt's powertrain controls and electrical systems. She had to do some considerable rewiring to incorporate the nitrous oxide system as well as implement the chassis and powertrain data acquisition systems. She also helped calibrate the engine controller on the dynamometer.

Saldivar described her experience with GM as "awesome."

"The people I worked with were very friendly," she said. "I'm very shy, but I started interacting with them, and I started feeling comfortable with them. They were very helpful."

Saldivar wants other electrical engineering students to have the experience that she did.

"It's an awesome experience, and I would highly recommend it for other electrical engineers going in if they give them that opportunity."

Saldivar is a senior and plans to graduate in December 2007.