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Nicole Lambiase grew up near Cape Canaveral and the Kennedy Space Center where she attended space shuttle launches, dreamed of the stars and had hopes of becoming an astronaut.

In 2004, Nicole’s dreams advanced as she began the aeronautical engineering program at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Florida. Even though Nicole thrived in the program, she quickly discovered this path would more likely lead her to driving a computer rather than a space module.

So Nicole made a leap of faith and switched to the newly-formed mechanical engineering program at Embry-Riddle. “I figured the mechanical degree would give me a more well-rounded engineering education with better opportunities for employment when I graduated,” Nicole says.

Nicole was still unsure of her decision until her first day of senior design class when several faculty advisers introduced her to EcoCAR: The NeXt Challenge. “Everything about the program got me really excited. The chance to be in a laboratory doing hands-on work with leading-edge automotive technologies was exactly what I was looking for,” she says.

Sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy and General Motors, EcoCAR challenges 17 North American universities, including Embry-Riddle, to redesign and re-engineer a 2009 Saturn VUE to minimize fuel consumption and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The program is managed for the Department of Energy by Argonne National Laboratory near Chicago.

University teams follow a real-world vehicle development process to develop, demonstrate, and test ultra-efficient vehicle designs and alternative fuels. Teams use both near-term and future vehicle technologies such as hybrid-electric, plug-in hybrid-electric, fuel-cell and all-electric powertrains.

Once Nicole worked in the lab on EcoCAR, she realized her true passion for automotive engineering. “The ability to create something from scratch as complex as a vehicle was really fascinating,” she says. “Plus, it’s really important to me to have the opportunity to help our country secure a more energy-efficient future through clean vehicle technology solutions,” she adds.

Today, she is an engineering coordinator for Argonne National Laboratory’s Advanced Vehicle Technology Competition program, where she helps organize and manage EcoCAR for future engineering generations.

Nicole may not be the one to prove there is life on Mars, but she was one of more than 15,000 students who participated in the DOE’s Advanced Vehicle Technology Competition. And by working towards building cleaner, more efficient vehicles, she’s got her feet to the ground making Earth a cleaner planet.


More information about EcoCAR is available at