University of Quebec's Team OMER found inspiration in nature—penguins, actually—as they set two international speed records last week at the International Human-Powered Submarine Races held at the U. S. Naval Surface Warfare Center's Carderock test tank in Bethesda, Md.
Team OMER, composed of students from the school's Ecole de Technologie Superieure in Montreal, drove two propellerless submarines to victory (winning $1,000 per race in the process) using thrust delivered from a pair of carbon fiber oars resembling the wings of the tuxedoed bird.
OMER 6, a one-person submarine, achieved a speed of 4.916 knots (5.65 miles per hour), beating the previous 4.642-knot (5.34-mile-per-hour) speed record for subs without a propeller. The two-person OMER 7 sub hit a top speed of 5.133 knots (5.90 miles per hour).
Florida Atlantic University's propeller-driven Talon-1 won the overall speed category with a performance reaching a top speed of 6.298 knots (7.24 miles per hour). The University of Quebec's OMER 5 sub still holds the record of 8.035 knots (9.24 miles per hour), set in 2007.
Eighteen high school and college teams, including schools from the U.S., Canada, United Kingdom and Venezuela, competed to see whose submarine could cut through the water fastest using a hull and propulsion system designed and built by the students. Each sub had one or two pilots onboard to propel their vessels across the 328-foot (100-meter) submerged racecourse. The test tank itself is about 3,000 feet (914.4 meters) long, 51 feet (15.5 meters) wide, and 22 feet (6.7 meters) deep.
The team from Sussex County Technical High School in Sparta, N.J., won both the "best design outline" and "best spirit of the races" awards for their Umptysquatch IV sub. One of the most important lessons the students can learn is the importance of the design, Chris Land, the school's engineering technology teacher told ScientificAmerican.com prior to the competition. He says he will give students "two extra months to design something if it means [they will] get it right the first time."
Top image: OMER 6 (circa 2007) © François Légaré
Update (07/13/09): ScientificAmerican.com has received images of this year's OMER 6 and OMER 7 submarines and their teams from the University of Quebec.