Larissa Kopf

Larissa Kopf

Larissa grew up in Germany and came to New Zealand as an exchange student and decided to stay.

WGW Educational Trust Engineering Prize for top female Engineering Student, Merit School Leavers Scholarship

Larissa Kopf

What degree are you studying, and are you doing any research?

I am currently doing my Masters in Mechanical Engineering, after completing my BE(Hons) in Mechanical Engineering at Waikato last year.

My research topic involves looking at how different suspension parameters, like spring rate, anti-roll bar and stiffness, affect the cornering behaviour of the 2018 WESMO car. The ultimate goal is to be able to develop predictive software for how the car could be driven around a track in the fastest possible time, and knowing what different suspension setups will achieve that time. In addition, the software could give the driver feedback on his or her performance, like breaking too early.

This research can be used for WESMO in years to come, and will enable us to better predict the behaviour of the suspension before building the car, thereby improving performance and vehicle handling.

What made you choose to study at the University of Waikato? And your degree in particular?

I grew up in Germany and came to New Zealand as an exchange student and decided to stay for my final year at high school in Tauranga. I loved the country so much I stayed for university. I always wanted to be an engineer, as I am a practical person and like to know how things work, so decided to study mechanical engineering. I’ve also always had an interest in cars, motorbikes and planes.

I chose Waikato over other options in New Zealand because of the smaller classes and the lecturers are really accessible. I also heard about the first year engineering design challenge and liked how practical it sounded. I then decided to stay for my Masters, as I wanted to stay involved with the WESMO team and do my thesis on that sort of topic, with the focus on motorsport and race engineering.

What does a typical day look like for you?

Being a Masters student, I don’t have lectures so I come in and get coffee first and then usually jump on the computer to do excel calculations or data analysis for my thesis.

If we are going to test the WESMO car, I go down and check all the sensors are working on the car and that everything on the car is good to go. We then head out to the Hamilton go-kart track with one of the drivers and setup a slalom and corner course with cones.

The car has sensors all over it so we can get lots of different data that I can use analyse the car’s performance. We do a few laps for a few different setups and then head back to campus. Once the car is packed away, I get back on the computer to look at the data and see how we can improve the handling of the car. I also use the data to verify my theoretical models and make adjustments where necessary.

Highlight of your study so far?

In my last year of undergraduate study, I spent nearly an entire year designing and building the WESMO car. I learnt so much, and got to apply what we had studied for the first three years. Going to Australia at the end of the year to compete was an amazing opportunity and really showed me that I want to pursue a career in race engineering.

What's your best tip for making the most of university life?

Get involved in as many things as possible: clubs, sports or study groups - doesn’t matter what. It’s a good way to get to know people and university is always easier, and more fun, if you have people to study with.

What do you plan on doing when you finish your degree?

Having always been interested in motorbikes and cars, I hope to pursue a career in motorsport and race engineering, working on both the practical and theoretical side of data analysis.

This would involve knowing what data needs to be gathered, what sensors should be used and their implementation, and the final analysis of the data itself. Then finally, learning how to make changes to the setup to improve lap times based on the data, as well as visual observations and driver feedback. My big dream is to one day work in Formula 1.

Larissa Kopf

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