This 17-Year-Old Designed a Motor That Could Potentially Transform the Electric Car Industry


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The highschooler had heard of a type of electric motor—the synchronous reluctance motor—that doesn’t use these rare-earth materials. This kind of motor is currently used for pumps and fans, but it isn’t powerful enough by itself to be used in an electric vehicle. So, Sansone started brainstorming ways he could improve its performance.

Over the course of a year, Sansone created a prototype of a novel synchronous reluctance motor that had greater rotational force—or torque—and efficiency than existing ones. The prototype was made from 3-D printed plastic, copper wires and a steel rotor and tested using a variety of meters to measure power and a laser tachometer to determine the motor’s rotational speed. His work earned him first prize, and $75,000 in winnings, at this year’s Regeneron International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF), the largest international high school STEM competition.1

The less sustainable permanent magnet motors use materials such as neodymium, samarium and dysprosium, which are in high demand because they’re used in many different products, including headphones and earbuds, explains Heath Hofmann, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Michigan. Hofmann has worked extensively on electric vehicles, including consulting with Tesla to develop the control algorithms for its propulsion drive.