CBE Students Place Fourth in National Chem-E-Car Competition

By Ingrid Paredes

Packing their lab coats, beakers, and brains, four students from the Rutgers School of Engineering made their way to San Francisco, California, for the annual American Institute of Chemical Engineers Chem-E-Car competition held on November 2, 2013.

The team of undergraduate students from the Department of Chemical and Biochemical Engineering -- Maya Gelman, Victor Kabala, Daniel Granda and Ingrid Paredes -- placed fourth in the competition of 31 universities from across the nation.

In the race, the chemically-powered, shoe-box sized cars carried a specific weight load over a distance announced at the time of the competition, said team captain Maya Gelman. This year, the cars were challenged to travel 17.5 meters carrying a water load of 250 milliliters. The car that stopped closest to the finish line was declared the winner by a panel of judges.

“It’s always nerve-wracking,” Gelman, a School of Engineering senior, said. “We design and build the car over the course of a semester, but anything can happen while we are at the race.”

Daniel Granda, a School of Engineering senior, said the competition tested the creativity involved in engineering. Every year, teams from across the nation arrive at the competition with unique vehicles.

The Rutgers car, Sir Winski, ran on a hydrogen fuel cell and stopped using a chemical reaction called an iodine clock reaction, a design credited to Maya Gelman and the car’s namesake, School of Engineering alumnus Matthew Cerwinski ENG’13. According to Granda, Sir Winksi was powerful enough to stop right at the finish line, but a loose bolt on the car’s front wheels impeded the team’s chance at victory.  In the end, Sir Winksi stopped 21 centimeters shy of the finish line, while the winning car from the University of Tulsa stopped 3 centimeters away. 

Although they did not win, the team was pleased with their results, said Granda. With a fourth place finish, the Rutgers team bested their previous showing at the 2012 national competition where they place 17th among 35 schools.

Last April, Sir Winksi earned the team its first winning title at the American Institute of Chemical Engineers Mid-Atlantic Student Regional Conference held at Rutgers University. By placing first, Rutgers was the only team from New Jersey to qualify for the 2013 national competition.

“I’m glad to have represented Rutgers,” Granda said. “We’ve made a huge improvement over the last year.”

The team’s advisor, Professor Fuat Celik of the Department of Chemical and Biochemical Engineering, said the team highlighted the strengths of the department’s students.

“It takes real ingenuity to build, design and implement a technology the way the team does every year,” he said. “The competition is a crowning achievement for the department and for the School of Engineering.”

In Spring 2014, the team will design and race a new car at the American Institute of Chemical Engineers Mid-Atlantic Student Regional Conference hosted by the University of Virginia in  Charlottesville, Virginia.

Pictured from left to right: Daniel Granda, Ingrid Paredes, Maya Gelman, Victor Kabala