NJIT Car Maven Takes on the American Solar Challenge, Then It's Off to Tesla

Written by: Tracey Regan,
“I’ll be working on all things electrical – batteries, motors, and even transmission and telemetry.”

Jason Murzello’s fascination with cars began in a fairly typical way – with his own matchbox set – but then veered into technology by way of video games such as “Need for Speed,” which allow budding aficionados to tinker with performance by switching out not only tires, but suspensions and engines as well. Add another layer, the chance to build a real, solar car from scratch in a garage a block from campus, and you have the makings of a career.

This summer, the 2018 electrical engineering graduate will begin working in a New Jersey Tesla dealership, where, as a technician, he will learn the inner workings of one of the world’s high-performance cars. As an all-purpose trainee, he will also acquire an insider’s view of a complex, evolving industry.

“I’ll be working on all things electrical – batteries, motors, and even transmission and telemetry – and this will give me a lot of technical experience,” notes Murzello. “By taking a training position, which introduces me to parts, repairs and customer service, I will be expanding my experience in the automotive industry.”

And it is an exciting time to be part of it, he says, as carmakers incorporate new technology, such as hybrid engines and alternative fuel sources, to increase efficiency and reduce their carbon footprint. 

“Increasingly sophisticated sensor systems more easily integrate feedback and response,” adds Murzello, who focused on the controls track in electrical engineering, including automation and feedback systems, which allow a car, for example, to maintain control if one wheel starts spinning and losing grip on an icy road. There is also a lot of interest in renewable technologies in this major.”

Within the next couple of years, he plans to head back to school for a master’s degree, possibly at NJIT, before working in research and develop as an engineer for Tesla or one of the big automakers.

Jason Murzello is head of the electrical team for NJIT's solar car club, but also a driver.

He was recruited early on by NJIT’s solar car club founders and fellow electrical engineering majors, Ivan Mitevski ’18 and Jefferson Guerrero ’18, to head the electrical team, and his role in building the university’s first solar car has been key to shaping his career path.

“What we’re developing is a proof of concept of what an electric car can be with the ability to charge it with solar panels. It’s important to get more power sources into mainstream use, not just increase the size of the battery, which weighs the car down, requiring more force to drive it. One feature of our solar car is a battery monitoring system, which allows us to check which battery cells have a problem.”

As members of a start-up of sorts, Murzello and some of his teammates spent last summer figuring out how they could build a car on few funds and little time that could compete with long established teams. He takes a holistic interest in the process, from engineering, to funding, to strategy and teamwork.

“Video games are a sophisticated teaching tool for what you can do on the road. But nothing really prepares you for having the parts in your hands and putting them together,” he says, adding, “One of the biggest challenges was piecing together funding and then deciding what parts to buy. One of the most satisfying parts of it all was the collaboration needed among our different teams to build it, designing parts with the mechanical engineers who will have to place them, for example.”

Now that the frame is essentially built, the team is attaching the body, suspension, steering and motors. In July, the car will head to Hastings, Nebraska for the Formula Sun Grand Prix, the qualifying round of the American Solar Challenge, where it will undergo safety inspections and endurance tests on a track. Murzello, who said he’s never been west of Kentucky, will be one of the drivers. If successful, the car will then embark on a 2,000-mile journey to bend, Ore. on the open road at speeds of 50 to 55 miles per hour.

“Most other teams take two to three years to design a car. We made it a goal to design one within a year and enter it into competition,” he notes proudly.

As he embarks on his career, which he hopes will include experience at some point working on high-performance competitive cars, he draws parallels between NJIT’s solar car and the highly engineered Tesla, with its two motors and complex electrical systems.

“There’s performance and usability,” he says. “No matter what car you’re working on, you’re always striking a balance between one element and another.”