Calahan is a first-generation college student from Glendale, Ariz., whose passion for mechanical engineering all started with his childhood love of cars and bikes.
He dabbled around in majors including pre-pharmacy and business his first year in school, but in the end his interest in all things mechanical, from car engines to airplane propellers, led him to transfer to ASU from a local community college during his sophomore year.
This move greatly changed Calahan’s expectations regarding the kind of outcomes available to an engineering student. It began while walking to the light rail stop with one of his professors after a long day on campus. During this conversation Calahan expressed his interest in not only mechanical engineering, but in renewable forms of energy.
A week later, Professor Takahashi invited him to help further a research project idea centered on wind-energy. Calahan agreed and enrolled in an Independent Study course with Takahashi the following semester. This 3-credit-hour course allowed him to devote several hours a week to this project and included many hours spent side by side with Takahashi.
Their project was to design and build a high-speed wind turbine, furthering Calahan’s knowledge and interest in the areas of aerodynamics and mechanical structures. The finished turbines have the potential to be placed on rooftops in areas with high-wind concentration and can power a house, school or business with entirely renewable energy.
“The idea is on par with solar roof paneling, but is not as restricted by space,” says Calahan. “Three or more of these wind turbines could fit on a rooftop generating three times the amount of energy as a roof covered in solar panels.”
His studies also reveal that 70 percent of the country has winds strong enough to utilize these turbines.
“The idea itself is relatively simple and the design builds upon familiar components in a new way,” says Calahan. “We realized that we didn’t need to ‘reinvent the wheel’, we only needed to make it better.”
Takahashi’s original idea and mentorship, paired with Calahan’s devotion to the project led not only to a $10,000 catalyst grant funded through ASU’s Venture Catalyst program, but also paid for an official patent application of the product’s design, which is currently pending. While awaiting approval of the patent, Calahan and Takahashi are considering turning the renewable project into a start-up company.
“I expected to leave ASU with a marketable degree, but I didn’t know I’d be leaving with a new invention and potentially a patent and a start-up company,” says Calahan.
The Independent Study opportunity has also enabled Calahan to build both a professional and personal relationship with an engineering professor.
“I came to ASU with a stereotypical idea of what student-professor relationships might be like,” says Calahan, “but instead I found a professor who was genuinely interested in my success and wanted to be involved.” “I even got professor Takahashi interested in riding road bikes and we enjoy taking rides together when we’re in need of a break from our research,” he says.
Calahan is in his last semester and he hopes to continue developing this start-up venture with Takahashi. It is possible that his engineering experiences at ASU have prepared him to be his own boss and to sell his own product and invention for years to come.
But even if that doesn’t happen Calahan says he’ll be happy with any job that allows him to do engineering work with his hands. After all, it was his interest in working on bikes and cars that led him to mechanical engineering in the first place.