Ready… Set… Chem-E-Car

December 5, 2017

Amy Schemitsch and Heather Bouse

After eleven years, the Chem-E-Car team is back and ready to win. Chem-E-Car is an annual competition that takes place in the spring during the Regional AIChE Conference. Competing universities each design and construct a small car around the size of a shoebox that is powered by a chemical energy source. The car must carry a specific weighted load and then stop after reaching a specified distance.  The top three winners from the regional competition can compete at the national level. For the past two and a half years, students in Mississippi State University’s Chemical Engineering program have been working on their own Chem-E-Car, with which they hope to compete against other universities in the 2018 AIChE Southern Student Regional Conference.  The students working on the project are known as the Chem-E-Car team and have the opportunity to gain valuable research, teamwork, and practical engineering experience.

Two years ago, the team was formed and began working on the car. The team consisted of only five members during the fall of 2015 but grew to eight members in the spring of 2016.  The previous team leaders that established a team were Zachary Curry and Alex Berry, who have recently graduated from the Chemical Engineering program. These team leaders directed a team of underclassmen and successfully researched methods to make viable batteries to power the car. According to Berry, the past team leaders were able to enjoy “watching the younger [students] learn about what we do such as troubleshooting problems, being given a task with specific instructions and having to work out the best way to solve the problem.” Curry added that he enjoyed “getting to mentor future chemical engineers.” Both previous team leaders had a very fun, unique experience working with the underclassmen. As Berry recalls, “Before the Chem-E-Car, everyone I worked with had more experience than me, so having this position of leadership was the first time I was able to have such a role.”

In 2016-2017, Austin Breland and Drew Dickerson took over as team leaders.  Both had been part of the Chem-E-Car team in the first year and took on management of the old and new members of the team. Both Drew and Austin stated that, “We now [Fall 2016] have twelve people on the team this year which consists of six freshmen, five returning members and one junior.”  The team began meeting twice a week for an hour each time, twice as often as the previous year. Both Breland and Dickerson stated that the overall goal for the team was to have “Mississippi State University submit a Chem-E Car for the first time in over a decade.” Breland and Dickerson both wanted to be team leaders because they saw the competition first-hand in the Regional Conference in the spring of 2015. Dickerson stated, “My first semester I did a Directed Individual Study on the battery of the Chem-E-Car, so I spent more time understanding the battery as the upperclassman started to leave.” The previous team captains’ final remarks were, “We are always looking for more people to join the team.”

Despite the hopes of last year’s team, Mississippi State University has yet to compete in the Regional Chem-E-Car competition. However, this year’s Chem-E-Car team strives to accomplish that goal by competing at Louisiana State University this upcoming spring.  The team now consists of eight returning members and eight new members, with former freshman team member Kathryn Wojtanik taking over the leadership position.  This year, the team has been split into four different subgroups, each having a specific role.  The subgroups include the iodine clock, battery, framework, and circuit teams.  The products of these subgroups will be combined for the finished car.  Kathryn believes “the spring competition will be an exciting opportunity to showcase our first competing Chem-E-Car.” With many returning, experienced members and several freshmen with new ideas, the Chem-E-Car team members hope this year they can show off their skill and hard work with other chemical engineers at the Southern Regional Conference.  Kathryn declared, “We’re looking forward to the finish line.” Mississippi State’s AIChE looks forward to seeing our Chem-E-Car team compete in this spring’s upcoming competition!