Formula racing: Chem-E-Car Club takes 25th at national competition

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The Chem-E-Car Club had tie-dyed lab coats for the competition. (Courtesy photo by the Chem-E-Car Club)

Student clubs help students develop their skills through hands-on work and experience and the Kansas State Chem-E-Car club is no different.

K-State’s team took 25th place out of 42 teams last weekend at the American Institute of Chemical Engineers Annual Student Conference in Orlando, Florida. They placed second in poster design and explanation and earned the Golden Tire Award, an award for best design mechanism voted on by other teams.

K-State took first at the regional conference at Missouri S&T last spring to qualify for the national competition.

The team consists of five students studying chemical engineering: Rodger Black, senior; Ashton Gohman, sophomore; Denea Clark, sophomore; Alex Ortiz, junior, and Rachel Berland, sophomore.

“We had some issues during the competition that we tried to get resolved,” Black said.

“The car didn’t do so hot in transport,” said Marcel Chlupsa, club vice-president and senior in chemical engineering.

A combination of citric acid and potassium carbonate fueled the shoebox-sized car.

“They are a weak acid and a weak base,” Ortiz said. “That generates a neutralized salt and carbon dioxide and we utilize that carbon dioxide to build pressure and we use that to pressurize the muscle.”

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Roger Black (left), Rachel Berland, Alex Ortiz, Denea Clark and Marcel Chlupa pose with their ChemE car. The team took 25th place. (Courtesy photo | Collegian Media Group)

At the competition, the teams had to get their cars to travel as close to 25 meters as possible while carrying water. The distance isn’t announced until the day of competition, Ortiz said. Then, the team has to recalibrate their car in an hour.

The car has 3D printed elements as well as equipment to prevent corrosion. At competitions, safety is a large concern as the students work with chemicals. A lot of design work goes into making a safe and practical car before competitions.

“Safety is very, very important to most Chem-E-Car competitions and Chem-E-Car in general,” Ortiz said. “You don’t want to be running really dangerous cars. Once you can figure out whether or not it’s safe or not, then you just have to start looking at practical ways to implement it.”

The team members use concepts learned in lectures and labs to produce their vehicles.

“It helps you see past a lot of the material,” Ortiz said. “They’re real world problems. It can be applied to a larger scale system, it’s just a smaller car. So there’s definitely a lot of overlap between our curriculum.”

Now that the national competition is over, the team will start preparing for the next regional competition in the spring.

“We have to make a 10 percent design change to the car before we can take it to regionals again,” Black said.

The team meets twice a week and puts in roughly six hours of work per week, Gohman said. This changes as they get closer to competitions.

“In the day to day, it’s not like, ‘Hey I have a wrench and I’m working on a car,'” Gohman said. “We run a lot of tests and do a lot of like, simulation competitions, where we’re like, ‘Hey, I want to go this distance. Let’s go ahead and try it.’ And if it doesn’t work, we do a lot of the testing, regroup and get back together, see what the problem is.”

Ortiz said the club is open to other majors, not just chemical engineering.

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My name is Bailey Britton and I am the managing editor for the Collegian. I grew up in Colby, Kansas. I am a sophomore studying journalism with minors in leadership studies and English. I value quality news coverage and believe that communication is a vital part of solving problems. When I have free time, I like to spend time with friends and family or be outdoors with a good book.