By on December 17, 2013


“Things they teach you in the classroom don’t matter until you have a chance to apply them.” So says Julia Cline, an incredibly bright and impressive woman. And for the past three years, Julia has been doing quite a bit of applying.

In the Fall of 2010, two students at The Ohio State University, Sean Ewing and Kyle Ginaven, had a dream of competing in the newly-created TT Zero class at the Isle of Man TT Races, one of the oldest and most prestigious motorcycle races in the world. The class was designed, according to the regulations, for “motorcycles to be powered without the use of carbon based fuels and have zero toxic/noxious emissions.” They posted an advertisement on campus, seeking students who would be interested in helping them build an electric sportbike. Eventually, they were successful in creating what is now called Buckeye Current, an electric motorcycle team founded through the university’s Center for Automotive Research.

“I saw the posting and I immediately signed up,“ says Cline, a non-traditional undergraduate Electrical and Computer Engineering student who already holds bachelors and Masters degrees in Music Education and Curriculum and Instruction. “For the first year, I was essentially a wrench monkey, working on the bike itself, doing whatever needed to be done.” The first bike they engineered was called RW-1, which started life as a 2007 MV Agusta F4. Fitted with an electric motor, motor controller, and battery pack, RW-1 set a collegiate electric motorcycle top speed record in 2011 of 112.349 MPH in Maxton, NC, piloted by Jennifer Holt, an Ohio State grad student and experienced motorcyclist.

“The bike originally had batteries designed for RC airplanes,” laughs Cline. “Loads of them.” In Autumn 2011, Cline became a co-leader of the team with Ginaven and completely reorganized and restructured the team. RW-1 was fitted with new lithium cobalt batteries, and the team designed, built, and tested the new battery back with the specific purpose of achieving maximum speeds.
In July of 2012, Current took RW-1 to the Mile Track in Wilmington, Ohio, with the goal of achieving 150 MPH. With its new battery pack and Holt at the controls, RW-1 fell just short but set another speed record of 144.352 MPH.

Having set straight line speed records, Cline and the team refocused on the original goal of Ewing and Ginaven- The Isle of Man TT Races. They built a new bike, codenamed RW-2, which had been a 2006 Honda CBR 1000RR in a past life. The Australian motor controller was taken from RW-1, a new lightweight EMRAX motor was purchased from Slovenia, and the team developed a battery management system which governed the new battery modules from Chinese sponsor Advanced Energy. Current had contacted Suzuki Great Britain World Superbikes rider (and 2009 TT Zero winner) Rob “The Bullet” Barber in 2011 to see if he would be interested in riding RW-1 in the Isle of Man TT, and although RW-1 never made it the TT, Barber stayed in contact with Cline and they came to an agreement to have him be at the helm of RW-2 for the 2013 TT.

The Isle of Man TT Races are held on quite possibly the most difficult motorcycle course in the world, the 37.8-mile long Mountain Course. Every obstacle imaginable can be found—walls, poles, jumps, bridges, manholes—you name it, the Mountain Course has it. It would take a racer of Barber’s capabilities to not only successfully navigate the course, but to do it in a fashion that would achieve Current’s goal for the bike—an average speed of 100 miles per hour and a podium finish. Cline and the rest of the Current team packed up RW-2 and headed across the ocean for the TT, where Barber raced around the course to qualify at an average speed of 91 MPH.

“Every bike has a transponder, but the electrical interference coming from these bikes is very strong,” explains Cline. “The only accurate measurement the officials can really get is the time crossing the Start Line and again crossing the Finish Line.”
The next day’s race saw Barber and RW-2 claim a third-place podium finish, besting all other university teams and four professional outfits with an average speed of 90.43 MPH. As a result, Current became the first university team in the history of the event to break the 90 MPH barrier. Cline says that she’s not even close to being finished with RW-2, though.

“We’re now in the process of evolving the bike. The new project is called RW-2.x. In my new role as technical team lead, I now have a very high-end view of design integration and project management. For instance, we are working to obtain new battery sponsorship that meets our motor controller’s technical requirements and our team goals. However, as a senior at OSU, my engineering capstone project involves me writing a new code for a CAN interface, so that we can translate analog information from the thermistors, battery cells, GPS, suspension travel and other readings into digital information that the data recorder can understand. We’re using a Texas Instruments Piccolo chip with C-based software, and some of our own circuitry designs for additional hardware.” Cline is clearly not your typical female student, and I asked her about her role as a female ECE, not only for Current but in her internship role as a Quality Engineer at a Tier 1 Honda supplier.

“There just aren’t as many female engineers in the automotive workplace as there are male engineers—and that’s okay. If there were, I’d be concerned about the draw to the industry, because we don’t make up nearly as much of the engineering student population. I’ve seen statistics showing that Ohio State has a record enrollment of females in the engineering fields, something like 18%. However, not many of those women are choosing Mechanical or Electrical Engineering. They’re more likely to choose Bio-Medical or Industrial Systems. Of the twenty-five Buckeye Current team members, only two of us are women engineering students.
“So, yes, I am an anomaly, but I’ve managed to make a place for myself where I’m respected by my colleagues. Oddly enough, I feel like I’m more accepted by the older generation of engineers than I am by the younger generation, which seems backwards to me. Maybe it’s because the older ones have had more opportunities to work with women? Maybe I’m just older in general. Things have to be done right and they have to be done fast. In our world, that’s all that really matters.”

When I asked Cline what her biggest challenges were, she responded candidly:

“Funding. One of the biggest strengths I brought to the team was my prior fundraising experience from working in the music and not-for-profit industry. We get limited funding from the University. While CAR is able to provide us an office and a place work on the bike, they only give us a little money for materials. So everything else in our race-focused design-built-test cycle has to come from the outside. For example, we lost our battery sponsor, so we’re actively seeking a new one as we speak.

“Also, since we are nearly all undergraduates, that means we graduate our best talent yearly. We are constantly losing our most qualified people and constantly having to train new members of the team. This is an all-volunteer team. They get paid nothing. They receive no college credit. But the hands-on experience that I have gotten has been the real prize. We’ve been exposed to the highest-caliber professional racing teams in the world, and we’ve competed with and beaten them.”

This Life of Julia has taken her around the world, and her ingenuity and team leadership has won her several awards, including the Arcelor Mittal Leadership Award, presented to her at the 33rd annual Women in Engineering Recognition Banquet earlier this year. Cline is set to graduate soon, and while there’s no doubt she’ll be missed by the team, some lucky automaker is going to get their hands on one hell of an engineer.

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22 Comments on “The Truth About Caroline: The Life Of Julia...”

  • avatar

    Great story!

  • avatar

    Terrific ! .

    You _GO_ Cline ! .

    The World needs more like you .


  • avatar

    Not going to try to discredit anybody here, these people did a pretty cool thing.


    I think about any LeMons team could accomplish the same with a keg and a weekend. Hell, I’ve work on electric forklifts a bit before. They’re pretty simple; batteries, a controller, and a motor. These people pieced together some components on a motorcycle frame. That’s cool, but it’s not that huge of a accomplishment. Now, if they designed and built everything from the ground up, themselves, that would be a bit different.

    • 0 avatar

      Hey now. For one thing, I think electrifying a bike is much more difficult than you give it credit for. Just the issue of trying to get regen to work with mechanic brakes is incredibly complex; whole car manufacturers haven’t gotten it right.

      And these are students, undergrads. They have other classes to deal with and they are learning as they go. The LeMons teams with skills are often pro mechanics and engineers, or have been hobbying on cars for decades.

      Did you ever do group work in school? Did you ever get something done that was this cool?

    • 0 avatar

      I generally find myself in agreement is most of your comments but this is not one of those times. You speak like one who has never broached making an electric vehicle. I have.

      Your LeMons team might do wonders but remember that this is a field that is not simple and miniaturization of components to fit a bike is extremely challenging. I won’t indulge in a pi$$ing contest over it but that is my $.02 worth.

      Great story. Keep em coming.

    • 0 avatar

      True. The three main powertrain components are off the shelf. While carefully selected, they are not designed to work together – so much of our work is the system integration and defining our inverter’s working calibrations and settings. No small feat. Where I do give a huge nod is the ground-up battery management system design. From spec to circuit to hardware to software, our BMS is student designed and built. This year, we are taking on the CAN protocal, datalogger and over 100 analog sensors through embedded system CAN bus nodes.

  • avatar

    I don’t see the big deal here: There are lots of women in engineering who are successful and lead. Maybe it’s more of a rarity in the US?. I am just waiting for them to take over to be honest.

    • 0 avatar

      Bullcrap. I am in the engineering field. It will be one hell of a day if ANY women, let alone successful ones reach 20% of the population. That applies to Europe and US all the same.

      Considering the dearth of women in so many “manly” fields, yeah, I think it’s a good idea to point out achievements of those that dealt with the inherent crap associated with doing anything in those field.

      • 0 avatar

        Such a thing might happen if standards are lowered. Medicine (outside of nursing) used the be an exclusive male arena, and plenty of primetime TV and after school specials taught me how “tough it was” for a female to succeed (propaganda aside, it was probably true in many cases). However now they simply don’t have enough bodies to fulfill the demand, so positions such as the physician’s assistant were created. The standards and amount of time to become one are still reasonably high, but at a much lower threshold than an AMA certified medical school (from what I was told, in the future you may see many current RNs pursue this route as the amount of experienced professionals shrinks with age and attrition). Mathematically as you lower standards you will see a different pool of applicants.

        • 0 avatar

          @28-Cars-Later – lowering standards? No. That is incorrect. There has been a push for women to enter traditional male jobs that started in the bra burning days of the 60’s.
          The education system as it currently configured favours women. Boys learn differently. There are some that suggest that boys should be held back 1 year at kindergarten due to being less developed intellectually.
          I currently see more female medical residents and nursing has nothing to do with it. You are falling into all of the stereotypical traps.
          Nursing has changed to where a Bachelor’s Degree is required as an entry to practice. We are seeing more and more Nurses with Masters and Doctorates. Nurse Practitioners are becoming more common as Medical Doctors become more sparse and/or expensive.

      • 0 avatar

        You’re incorrectly focusing on equality of outcome, when you should be worrying about equality of opportunity. All you end up doing is reinforcing the perception that women engineers can’t hack it, while giving yourself more to self-flagellate about.

        • 0 avatar

          What we need are more women firefighters. Big deal if they can’t drag your rear end out of a fire. At least we can say they have equal opportunity to do so.

          • 0 avatar

            @AJ – that is the typical sexist response to equality of access. There are women out there that are just as strong as men.

            The point is – equal access but regardless of whether it is a physical job or a mental job, you must be able to do the job.

            A pair of testicles does not automatically make you more qualified.

      • 0 avatar

        It’s happening in structural engineering already. Even construction is getting a lot of female engineers, at least in California. Other engineering disciplines are following. It’s great.

  • avatar

    Nice post. It sounds like a great project, and the world needs more female engineers.

    I have a few friends and a coworker who are female engineers, and it boggles my mind to hear about the flack they have gotten over their careers from other men. You would think all male engineers would be thrilled to actually get to work with more women in their field, but it seems not always to be the case. Then again, engineers are not always known for their social skills…

    Anyway, I’m glad to see the inspiration – I hope she finds a great home out in the world.

  • avatar

    Good article.

  • avatar

    “…to be powered without the use of carbon based fuels and have zero toxic/noxious emissions…”

    I stopped reading there. It’s a stupid concept. Modern ICE cars are as clean as they will ever need to be. Problem solved. Fire the regulators; move on to something worthwhile…

  • avatar

    I always wondered what happened in that CAR building on the edge of campus. I saw the EV charging stations, but never much more.
    I wonder if they ever open up for tours…

  • avatar

    If you’re brave enough to invite an internet stranger over, I’d be thrilled to have a look around. I am easily found by tacking my handle onto a gmail address.

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