A 17-year-old’s new synchronous reluctance motor outperforms traditional designs

At number 17 on IE's 22 best innovations of 2022, we look at young engineer Robert Sansone’s magnet-free motor prototype.
Chris Young

17-year-old engineer Robert Sansone’s magnet-free motor is 17th on our list for the top 22 innovations of 2022.

This summer, we reported that Sansone was awarded the first prize, and winnings of $75,000, at this year's Regeneron International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF), the world's largest international high school STEM competition.

It’s not so much that his invention revolutionized the electric vehicle industry — magnet-free motors already existed before Sansone's invention — but more that his creativity at such a young age serves as an inspiration to engineers the world over.

New synchronous motor design provides 39 percent more torque

Sansone's project could still be applied practically in the world of electric motors. The young engineer specifically developed a synchronous reluctance motor that outperformed traditional motors by providing an additional 39 percent of torque.

Synchronous reluctance motors are typically used for pumps and fans and aren’t utilized in electric vehicles. Sansone’s new model, however, improves the torque and doesn’t require magnets, which are built using costly and often unethically sourced rare-earth metals. The use of these materials also means the global EV industry is massively reliant on China, which is the world's largest exporter of rare-earth metals.

The high-schooler initially set out to improve on existing models of the synchronous reluctance motor, as it doesn't require rare-earth metals. These types of metals are widely used in the electric vehicle industry and they are often sourced unethically and pose a danger to the environment.

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Young engineer wins top prize with magnet-free motor design

Over the course of a year, Sansone created a prototype for a new type of synchronous reluctance motor using 3D-printed plastic, copper wires, and a steel rotor. He tested it using a laser tachometer to determine torque and the results of his experiments ultimately bagged him the top prize at the ISEF.

What's more, earlier this year, Sansone said he had completed about 60 engineering projects in his spare time, including a 70-mph go-kart and an animatronic hand. The sky’s the limit for this exciting young engineer and his invention makes it onto our list for the horizons it might broaden and the doors it might open for other young engineers.

This is number 17 in Interesting Engineering's series showcasing the best innovations of 2022. Check back to discover more about groundbreaking AI, unique solar panels, new 3D printing methods, and much more.