The Virginia Tech Chem-E-Car team placed first in the 2019 International Chem-E-Car Competition at the Annual American Institute of Chemical Engineers Student Conference in Orlando, Florida, on Nov. 10. The competition tested a team's ability to design and construct a shoebox-sized car, powered and stopped by chemical reaction, to go 25 meters while safely carrying load of 450 grams.

The undergraduate student team competed against 42 universities from around the world, including teams from Korea, China, India, Taiwan, Brazil, Colombia, Poland, and Qatar.

This year, the Virginia Tech team designed a new drive system for the car along with a novel triple reaction control and stopping mechanism, in addition to a sophisticated on-board computer that propelled the team to victory.

“Being involved with the Chem-E-Car team has taught me the importance of thinking on the fly, and having an in-depth understanding of the science and engineering involved in a design,” said Jared Arkfeld, chemical engineering third-year. “In industry, this can be the difference between a quick fix and hours of lost time and loss of profit.”

Chem-E-Car Team members in action at the Annual American Institute of Chemical Engineers Student Conference in Orlando, Florida on November 10, 2019.
Chem-E-Car Team members in action at the Annual American Institute of Chemical Engineers Student Conference in Orlando, Florida, on Nov. 10, 2019.

In April 2019, the team qualified for the global competition with a first-place finish at the Mid-Atlantic Regional competition held at Penn State University. The team has qualified for the competition for the past six years, but this is the team’s first overall win.

The 2019 Chem-E-Car team consisted of 12 chemical engineering undergraduate students: team lead Nish Shanmugham, Jared Arkfeld, Josh Rasco, Paul Stiles, Matt Poling, James Owens, Jess George, Ian Davis, Emma Dartevelle, Franklin Sheng, Sarah Adam, and Ryan Stephen. Their faculty advisor was Stephen Martin, associate professor in the Virginia Tech Department of Chemical Engineering.

The team is thankful for the generous financial support of Virginia Tech alumnus Steve Cope of ExxonMobil, the Student Engineers’ Council, and the Student Budget Board. The team also thanks the staff in the Department of Chemical Engineering for the extensive administrative and technical support.

Written by Stephen Martin and Nish Shanmugham