This article appeared in the August 22, 2022 edition of the Monitor Daily.

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For this innovator, an early start and an ambitious goal

Chris Ayers/Courtesy of Society for Science
Robert Sansone, winner of the George D. Yancopoulos Innovator Award, poses with his synchronous reluctance motor on May 12, 2022, at the Regeneron International Science and Engineering Fair.
Clayton Collins
Director of Editorial Innovation

If you’ve been to a science fair, then you’ve seen high schoolers standing beside trifold foam boards and 3D models. Most will go home, some to next-level competitions, a few to the forefront of solutioneering.

Robert Sansone belongs in category three. The 17-year-old high school senior from Florida is 16 iterations into his synchronous reluctance electric motor. Next focus: “minimizing torque ripple.” 

Robert’s larger aim: to make the manufacturing of the motors that drive electric vehicles (EVs) greener. A recent story in Smithsonian magazine did a pretty good job summarizing his work, he says in a private exchange on LinkedIn, where he describes himself as “a life-long builder and designer.” 

But why wade into such a competitive, big-player realm – one with complicated growing pains?

“I was watching a video on … EVs, where the issue with rare earth elements in their electric motors came up,” Robert writes. That bothered him. “We are moving away from the problems with fossil fuels, but are now moving into this new problem with rare earth elements.”

Robert knew motors existed that didn’t require such elements, the extraction of which carries environmental and human costs. Research taught him that such motors lack the performance needed for EVs. That’s where Robert’s work comes in.

For an assessment of his prospects I turned to Eric Evarts, a former Monitor auto and tech writer. Eric hails Robert’s breakthrough engineering (also recognized as such with a global award), adding caveats that surely hover around Robert already. Beating the performance of existing coil-wound motors is one thing. Matching the rare-earth permanent-magnet motors that EV makers use now? Hard to do (if even possible), or to scale.

Robert isn’t backing down. Not yet in college, he has some torque of his own – and plans for patents. “Seeing the day when EVs are fully sustainable due to the help of my novel motor design,” he tells Smithsonian, “would be a dream come true.”

This article appeared in the August 22, 2022 edition of the Monitor Daily.

Read 08/22 edition
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