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Highly successful submarine club seeks world records but struggles to stay afloat

Jason McCullough had no idea what to expect when he came to Florida Atlantic University to study ocean engineering. Now, nearly four years later, he is preparing for his final year— and a much anticipated submarine race.

McCullough is an active member of the Human Powered Submarine Club, a student government-funded organization made up of engineering students.

The goal of the club is to do just what it says— to build a human-powered submarine. There is, of course, a reason behind why a submarine is being built, and according to McCullough and his club-mates, there is no better reason: The biennial International Submarine Races are taking place in June in Maryland, and the FAU submarine club is seeking a world record.

FAU actually will try for two world records – one for a one-person sub, and one for a two-person sub. Both are based on speed.

The team has been spending every free second perfecting both submarines in time for the races. According to McCullough, "We're in it for the prestige. These races are a huge resumé builder, and it shows future employers that we can incorporate what we learn in class and use it in real-life situations."

FAU already has a track record, so to speak. In 2009, the submarine team took first place in absolute speed — the same race it's trying to win again, this time pushing harder to reach world record fame.

Andrew Harrington, another member of the team, admits that juggling school and the submarine work has been tough, but he is hoping that it will be worthwhile.

"We've put almost all of our time into perfecting these things [submarines], and it will be a big disappointment if we don't win," Harrington said. "We've spent the past two years trying to get to the point where we are world champions. I really hope it works."

With the help of their engineering professors, the submarine club has "perfected" its one-person submarine and, over the course of the last year, the team has built a 16-foot, two-person submarine.

"We've improved on our designs, compared our subs to past winners and surpassed their accomplishments in order to win," Harrington said.

It seems that two years have flown by for the team, which is working hard to apply finishing touches to their work. With many of the team members leaving for internships this summer, the pressure is higher than ever.

Money is another factor.

"Even though we get money from student government, it's not nearly enough," Harrington said. "We've had to stretch our money thin and depend on our sponsors for any materials we lack."

The team has gained nine sponsors who donate the materials it would otherwise not be able to afford.

"We have gotten everything from electronics to small scuba items donated to us," McCullough said.

The sponsors receive recognition by appearing on the HPS Web site, as well as having their logo displayed on the sub at the races.

The two-man submarine is operated using a gear box that works similarly to a bicycle, with one person steering and the other peddling as fast as possible. Club members will alternate who drives the sub, and according to McCullough, "Every will get a chance to drive."

The International Submarine Race has taken place every other year for 20 years and is held at the Naval Surface Warfare Center's Carderock division in Bethesda, Md.

The 10-member FAU team will drive to Maryland in late June, hoping to bring home world records and more recognition to FAU and its engineering department.

To learn more about the Human Powered Submarine team, visit http://hps.fau.edu/about.



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