First Competition Nets Prize for Chemical Engineering Students

Elizabeth Gomez, Vera Rodriguez, Juan Marin, Gage Agee, Brandon Howell, Loc Huynh, Sean Simkins and Ashley Cox traveled to Rolla, Missouri, to compete in the American Institute of Chemical Engineering's conference and competition.
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Elizabeth Gomez, Vera Rodriguez, Juan Marin, Gage Agee, Brandon Howell, Loc Huynh, Sean Simkins and Ashley Cox traveled to Rolla, Missouri, to compete in the American Institute of Chemical Engineering's conference and competition.

The trip to a regional chemical engineering competition was a success for students in the local chapter of the American Institute of Chemical Engineering.

About a dozen undergraduates traveled to Rolla, Missouri, for the three-day AIChE conference and competition, and returned with the group's first student prize. The competition took place April 12-14 at the Missouri University of Science and Technology. Student teams from universities across the region gathered to for the event.

Students competed in a variety of events, including a poster competition, paper competition and the Chem E Car Competition — a multi-part event in which students build a small vehicle that starts and stops using only chemical reactions. The vehicle must travel a pre-determined distance while carrying a specified weight determined only an hour before the contest begins.

The ChemE car team members are Aryana Mitchell, Ashley Cox, Brandon Howell, Elizabeth Gomez, Gage Agee, Juan Marin, Keem Cartwright, Kyle Davin, Kyle Williams, Loc Huynh, Sean Simkins and Vera Rodriguez.

The University of Arkansas team took third place in the Chem E Car poster competition, which is a chance for students to present their research related to the car competition.

For Ashley Cox, a junior chemical engineering major, the award was an added bonus to a unique opportunity to flex her engineering skills in the real world.

The team's design used an aluminum-air battery made of carbon, aluminum foil and saturated salt electrolyte, and Cox said the building process was an exercise in innovation.

"We tried several designs for the battery. We had to think of different chemical combinations, try things and adjust," she said.

The stopping mechanism on the car was an iodine clock comprised of a light sensor and a laser with a potassium iodine solution in the middle. By adding hydrogen peroxide to the potassium iodine solution, the solution becomes darker over time, eventually blocking the laser, stopping the car.

Although the team's car didn't qualify for the national competition, for Cox, the competition was a chance to learn about more than chemistry.

"What I learned the most was how hard it is to manage people," Cox said. "I learned a lot about time management and also applying the chemistry we've learned to solve different problems."

Chemical engineering juniors Vera Rodriguez and Loc Huynh said teamwork was a key ingredient in the endeavor.

"This experience taught me to rely on my team and also not to panic when things do not go as planned," Rodriguez said.

"Not only did I have an opportunity to develop my professional network, I also created connecting bond and lasting friendships among our team members," Huynh said.

The team is advised by Natacha Souto Melgar, teaching assistant professor in the Ralph E. Martin Department of Chemical Engineering.

Souto said the competition is a fun way to take engineering concepts outside the classroom.

"It's a chance for them be creative — to apply their knowledge about chemistry and chemical engineering in something that's fun," Souto said. "They also learned a lot about safety, because the competition has a major focus on the safety aspect, which is an important aspect in chemical engineering."

The competition was also a chance for students to experience interdisciplinary collaboration.

"I had to learn a lot of different skills," Cox said. "I had to learn some coding, working with bread boards — things we wouldn't normally have worked with. We consulted people in electrical engineering and computer science."

The team was also assisted by chemical engineering staff members Tammy Lutz Rechtin, safety coordinator for the department, Harold Watson, scientific research technician and George Fordyce, technical assistant II.

Cox and Souto said the team was pleased to return with the poster competition prize, but Cox has high hopes for the team's second foray into the competition:

"We're planning to go back next year and win."


Nick DeMoss, director of communications
College of Engineering


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