With the creation of a model car powered solely by chemical reactions, a team of undergrads from Carnegie Mellon's Department of Chemical Engineering recently received honors at the national Chem-E-Car competition.
"I am really happy that we could do so well in our second year at the competition," said co-founding member Melissa Bartel, whose team won the second-place award at the November meeting of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE). "It was really rewarding to see the team that I had helped to create win second place."
The team's objective was to stop the car closest to a specified distance, which they didn't receive until one hour before the competition. In addition, the car was required to carry a load of water between 0 and 500 milliliters.
According to team co-founder Denver Faulk, teams were given two runs during the competition.
"After the first run, we undershot the target by about 8 feet," he said. "Luckily we knew what the problem was and we fixed it. The car went faster the second run and we were only 4.5 inches short of the line."
A homemade zinc/copper battery powered the car and a magnesium/acid dissolution reaction stopped the car in the specified time.
Faulk added that when he, Bartel, Carlene Ulish and Jeff Pierce started the team two years ago, they had no idea they were going to experience so much success so quickly. When Bartel was asked about the team's plans for next year's competition, naturally she said, "First place!"
Faulk noted that so many students are on the team now it's possible they may build two cars for the next regional competition.
"We've been throwing around some ideas for next year, but we haven't decided anything yet," said Faulk. "We are thinking about building a car that is powered by a methanol fuel cell. The interesting thing about that idea is that because of the rules of the competition we would have to produce our own methanol from scratch, which should be fun."
Team members also included: Alia Lubers, Rogaite Shafi, Sudarsan Venkatachalam, Lisa Augustyniak, Robert Wiegmann, Carmeline Dsilva, Boo Kim, Alicia Marrie, Jincao Xu, Christabel Wai and Choi Teng Ho.
Grad students Jeff Pierce, Scott Epstein and faculty member Jim Miller served as advisors.
Photographed: (clockwise from left) Jim Miller, Scott Epstein, Sudarsan Venkatachalam, Jeff Pierce, Rogaite Shafi, Denver Faulk, Melissa Bartel