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Mizzou Engineering teams: It’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game

Home > Blog > Mizzou Engineering teams: It’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game

Mizzou Engineering teams: It’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game

MU Engineering’s ChemE car team placed second in its regional conference. Shown here, from left to right, are Corey Staller, Beau Rothwell (team captain) and Mary Beth Luebbe, following their car on one of its runs. Not pictured is Jarrett Pon, who will be next year’s team captain. Photo courtesy of Kate Bernards.

ChemE car team

The ChemE car team placed second in its regional conference, clinching a spot for the national competition in the fall.

The team’s backpack-sized car runs on a combination of acetic acid and sodium bicarbonate. The day of the competition, a goal distance is set, and teams compete to get their cars closest to that number. This year’s goal was 57 feet, and the car finished at 51. “The competition isn’t about speed; it’s about controlling your car,” said team captain Beau Rothwell, a sophomore. “You just have to put it in and let it go.”

Rothwell credits the team for being organized during the competition. “Everyone’s running around trying to get chemicals,” he said. “Our car is simpler, so we had more time.”

Each year, teams must change one significant element of their car. The Mizzou ChemE car team decided to alter the chemicals for this year’s competition, but next year, it plans to put the car in the garage and start from scratch. Rothwell said he hopes to try an iodine clock battery car, which is more complex in the way it operates.


Tigergen II, Mizzou Engineering’s hydrogen car, took first place in the Urban Concept category at the Shell Eco-Marathon. Members of the team, shown here are leading the car to one of its runs. The team also won the event’s Team Spirit Award. Photo courtesy of Rick Whelove.

Hydrogen car team

A few system modifications, a battery upgrade and a tiger tail helped the Mizzou hydrogen car team clean up its competition at the Shell Eco-Marathon. The team took home first prize in the hydrogen category at the competition as well as the team spirit award. “We’re very excited about it,” said team president Jonathan Lavallee, a senior.

The Shell Eco-Marathon is a competition of efficiency. Teams enter cars in categories based on type of car or fuel. The hydrogen car team, as part of the hydrogen category, aimed to create the most efficient practical vehicle possible. The car, which the team fondly calls the “Award-Winning Tigergen II,” completed a 6-mile track in downtown Houston, Texas, which meant hitting potholes and simulating traffic stops. It also was required to have four wheels and trunk space.

After not completing the track last year, the hydrogen car team came prepared. “For this year, we geared the motor so it could operate more efficiently, put in new ball bearings with ultra-low rolling resistance and upgraded the batteries to lithium ion,” Lavallee said. The driver, Jennifer Claybrooks, wore a helmet camera to capture the race moments from inside the car. The team also got the car professionally painted with black and gold racing stripes and waxed it for the race. And it shined. Out of 15 teams in the category, the Tigergen II took first place with an efficiency of 14.2 miles per kilowatt-hour, which the team then converted to approximately 490 miles per gallon.

It’s also fitting that the team took home the team spirit award. Engineering students from multiple disciplines make up the team, but for the race, they united under one common name: Mizzou. The team members wore Mizzou T-shirts and polo shirts, plastered Mizzou decals all over the Tigergen II, pinned a tiger tail to the end, and chanted “M-I-Z” as they paraded through the streets of downtown Houston. “Getting the ‘Team Spirit’ award was a surprise, but this group really deserves it,” said faculty sponsor Rick Whelove. “Every decision they made, they made as a team, and they even helped other teams out. The way they work together is phenomenal.”

The team also created display boards specific to the Tigergen II and the Eco-Marathon to inform members of the public who wandered into the paddocks during the race. Finally, they set up a game that would teach children how a fuel cell works. Similar to playing skee ball, a child could toss a white ball, which represented a hydrogen atom, into holes representing a membrane. If he or she made it into the hole, lights flashed and the Tigergen’s wheels spun.

In addition to the team awards, Mizzou freshman Tim Laidlaw won the Southwest Research Institute scholarship. “That’s a pretty big deal because his name was picked out of everyone in attendance,” Lavallee said.

The hydrogen car team is working on Tigergen III, a car with which they hope to increase efficiency even more. “We want to use Solid Works for the design,” Lavallee said. “That way we can output the file to a machine that could print it in 3D so we’ll have an exact replica of the design.” With any luck, it will be just as award-winning.


MU’s seismic design team didn’t place as well in competition as it has in past years — that third earthquake was their undoing — but the team members enjoyed themselves and prefers to think of the loss in positive terms. It’s not a losing experience. It’s a learning experience.

Seismic design team

After impressive finishes in both 2009 and 2010, the seismic design team had a disappointing 24th-place finish at this year’s Earthquake Engineering Research Institute student design competition in San Diego, Calif.

For the competition, teams from around the world create balsa wood models of buildings that would function as office space in the real world. The height of the structures vary from 32 to 60 inches, with taller structures earning higher points, and each structure must fit in a 15-by-15-inch square. The models are then tested on a shake table, which simulates three earthquakes, each increasing in magnitude. After the testing, the team makes a presentation and responds to questions from judges for final scoring. The team’s final score comprises presentation, architecture of the structure, annual revenue of the building based on how well it withstood each earthquake and penalties.

“This year, we struggled during the third earthquake and ended up breaking on the first floor, which caused us to have a very large penalty,” said team captain Alexis Dias. Still, the team counts it as a learning experience. “The atmosphere is very exciting, especially when teams are breaking their towers,” Dias said. “It’s interesting to see how other teams interpret each of the rules.”

This year, there were 30 teams total in the competition, including ones from Malaysia and Romania. “The best part of the competition has been traveling across the country,” Dias said. “We may be from Missouri, but I feel as though we represent the school very well, and we have proven to many California schools that everyone living in Missouri is not Amish.”


A change in rules on lateral loads tripped up this year’s Steel Bridge Team, and they were disqualified from competition along with a majority of other teams competing. Team members are already discussing what they’ll do differently next year.

Steel bridge team

The steel bridge team attended the same regional conference as the concrete canoe team in Manhattan, Kansas at the Kansas State University engineering school. Each year, the team must fundraise via sponsorships to design and construct a bridge. “This year, through a lot of hard work, we were able to gain numerous sponsors to cover material and trip expenses,” said team captain Sean Collier.

Each bridge must be constructed according to ASCE and AISC guidelines. “Some basic rules include dimension restrictions of the bridge and member restrictions,” Collier said. Specifically, each piece of the bridge had to be smaller than 3 feet long by 4 inches high by 6 inches wide, and the bridge could not weigh more than 20 pounds.

Twelve teams attended the competition this year, and unfortunately, Mizzou’s steel bridge team was disqualified because it didn’t meet one of the requirements. “In one of the lateral load tests, 75 pounds is applied laterally, and your bridge may not deflect more than 0.5 inches,” Collier said. “Our bridge, along with 9 other bridges, failed that requirement. It was mainly the result of a rule complexity that came from changes to this year’s rules.”

With that in mind, the team is strategizing for next year’s conference. “Next year, we will most likely look into completing initial bridge construction earlier, which will allow for further post testing of the design and making necessary modifications,” Collier said.


Mizzou’s concrete canoe team finished third overall in their regional competition, but took a first place for aesthetic, product display and display notebook and garnered many complements for their green and yellow design. Photo courtesy of Lyndsay Harwood of Lyndsay Nicole Photography.

Concrete canoe team

For the Mizzou concrete canoe team, there’s something about the number 3. For the third year in a row, the team finished third overall in the regional conference. Held at Kansas State University’s engineering school, the competition comprised 10 teams that were evaluated in four categories: final product, oral presentation, technical paper and races.

The team wrote a technical paper that described the construction process and concrete mix design and then presented the paper. The teams were then also judged on their final products – aesthetic, product display and display notebook – and finally the results of the races. Mizzou’s concrete canoe team won first place for its final product. The competition also included five races: men’s and women’s sprint, men’s and women’s endurance and co-ed endurance.

“We received a lot of compliments on the design for our canoe from other teams,” said team member Sawyer Breslow.

Because the concrete canoe team attended the same conference as the steel bridge team, team spirit was heightened. “The atmosphere of the competition was great,” Breslow said. Team captain Chelsea Smith agreed. “Each team supported the others at their specific competitions, and on more than one occasion there was an M-I-Z-Z-O-U chant going,” she said.


Geo Wall team

The Geo Wall team rounded out the trifecta of Mizzou competition teams at Kansas State University at its regional competition. Of the three teams competing, the Tigers placed second.

The teams competed in a fast-paced contest to build a mechanically stabilized earth wall (MSE) using poster board and paper strips as reinforcement. Prior to the competition, the teams were given specifications for the size of the wall and the load it would need to withstand. “Each team has a wooden box with the top removed that is built so that one of the sides can be removed once construction of the wall is complete,” said team captain John Fandrey.

The teams then get 30 minutes to assemble the poster board and attach reinforcements. After that is a 20-minute time allowance to fill the box with sand. After the poster board is in place and the box is filled, the removable side is taken out, which leaves the poster board to stand on its own. If the wall makes it a minute without breaking, 50-pound buckets of sand are placed behind the wall at one-minute intervals until the wall gives. The wall that holds the most weight with the least reinforcement wins.

“To prepare for the event, we practiced a couple times a week for a few weeks to make sure we could construct the wall properly in the allotted time,” Fandrey said. “This paid off during the competition by making us completely constructed before the allotted time was up. Unfortunately, we overlooked one of the connections in our box and the wall failed once 100 pounds of sand had been placed on it.”

Fandrey said the team will go back next year ready to win, and in any case, they had fun attending the conference with the other competition teams. “It was great being able to represent Mizzou Engineering on Kansas’ home turf,” he said. “We had a lot of support from members of other Mizzou teams during the competition.”


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