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Mizzou Engineering ChemE Car Team places in top 10 at nationals

MU Engineering’s ChemE car team placed seventh at the national conference. Shown here, from left to right, are Beau Rothwell (team captain), Jennifer Von Hausen and Greg van Patten with their team poster board display. Other contributing members of the team include Jarrett Pon, Marybeth Luebbe and Corey Staller.

After placing second in the regional competition this past May, Mizzou Engineering’s ChemE Car Team took its backpack-sized car, many hours of preparation and Mizzou pride to the American Institute of Chemical EngineersChemE Car National competition (AlChE) and successfully placed in the top 10.

“They were only 18 inches away from the line and placed seventh out of 35 schools,” said team adviser, Matthew Bernards, an MU assistant chemistry professor.

The ChemE Car competition requires participating teams to design and construct a vehicle that is powered by a household chemical reaction and create a poster board that explains how the car works. The car has to travel a course that ranges between 50 and 100 feet, and carry a volume of water between zero and 500 milliliters. The teams are notified of the distance and volume requirements an hour before the competition and the team that comes closest is deemed the winner.

“We had to figure out how we could generate power from chemistry and use that power to move wheels,” said Beau Rothwell, a junior chemical engineering student and Mizzou’s ChemE Car president. “We used sodium bicarbonate and acidic acid to produce gas that expands in the piston and propels the car.”

The team has shown steady improvement in both accuracy and ranking in the ChemE Car competition over the past three years. Both Bernards and team members said the most challenging and important part of the competition is safety.

“We have to go through a big safety inspection before the competition,” said team member Jennifer Von Hausen, a junior in chemical engineering, “so, we test the car a lot.”

The team has used the same car since it began participating in the competition, but it is required to change something significant about the car every year. For next year’s ChemE Car competition, the team is thinking about using potassium iodide and hydrogen peroxide.

“It’s all about finding alternative power sources. Eventually, someone’s going to come up with a really new, cool way to power a car,” said Rothwell.