In November, the Virginia Tech Chem-E-Car team won first place at the 2020 AICHE Chem-E-Car Competition, defeating more than 20 other teams competing from around the country and the world in the virtual event. 

The Chem-E-Car competition tests a team's ability to design and construct a shoebox-sized car that is both powered by and stopped as precisely as possible using chemical reactions. The Virginia Tech team’s car won the competition by traveling 17.40 meters and stopping almost exactly at the target distance. The team used four concurrent Vitamin C clock reactions as a stopping mechanism and built a Zinc-Carbon battery as their power source. 

“I have always been inspired by a challenge, and Chem-E-Car is the perfect place for me to build my problem-solving and critical thinking skills,” said battery subteam lead Lexi Swift. “This team works so well together because of our camaraderie and willingness to help each other. I joined without knowing how to apply the classroom concepts I had learned, and anytime I’m stuck with a problem, there is always someone able to point me in the right direction. The legacy of winning kept us motivated to innovate and improve from a rough first run at the competition to a historical, near-perfect win.”

This fall, the team faced many challenges, including a compressed competition timeline and building their car start to finish in one month. “I truly appreciate the effort the team placed on navigating the new rules to deliver outstanding results during an atypical semester,” said chemistry subteam lead Carlos Prieto.

The team qualified for the national competition by winning the Mid-Atlantic regional competition in early October. Both the regional and international competitions were held in a virtual format this year due to COVID-19 travel restrictions. Teams from around the world showcased their designs online and live-streamed their competition runs from their home universities.

The Virginia Tech team has now won two consecutive international Chem-E car competitions, having also placed first at last year’s international competition in Orlando, Florida. 

The 2020 Chem-E-Car team consists of 14 chemical engineering undergraduate students: team lead Jared Arkfeld, Aashi Agarwala, Abby Boyles, Alejandro Rodriguez, Carlos Prieto, Anshul Paripati, Paul Stiles, Ian Davis, Catie George, Lexi Swift, Katy Carney, Mackenzie Roach, Lindsey Wallen, and Sara Schlemmer. Their faculty advisor was Stephen Martin, associate professor in the Virginia Tech Department of Chemical Engineering.

The team got financial support from Virginia Tech alumnus Steve Cope of ExxonMobil, the Student Engineers’ Council, and the Student Budget Board. Staff in the Department of Chemical Engineering also gave extensive administrative and technical support.

Written by Jared Arkfeld