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February 13, 2013

VIDEO: Chem-E-Car competition at Oklahoma State University requires skill and critical thinking

STILLWATER, Okla. — Oklahoma State University chemical engineering students put their knowledge and creativity to the test at the annual Chem-E-Car Competition Tuesday evening.

Event adviser Heather Fahlenkamp said the competition has been held for more than 10 years at OSU.

“It gives them the chance to work in a team activity for a design project to work on a hands-on activity to build a chemical powered vehicle,” she said.

Juniors work to build vehicles powered by chemical reactions.

“Basically, any chemical reaction, as long as it’s within the safety limitations, can be used to power the vehicle,” Fahlenkamp said. “There’s various designs for this year’s competition. We have some reactions that give off a gas to pressurize the vehicle that drives a piston assembly. Another reaction is lead acid battery to power a small motor to move the vehicle.”

Each vehicle must carry a pre-determined weight and get as close to a specified distance as possible. Students are not made aware of these measurements until an hour prior to competition. This year’s randomly drawn distance and weight was 56 feet and 425 milliliters of water.

Teams of students work together to accomplish the task. Ashlee Keenum and her team, “The engiNERDS,” hoped to come in first this year.

“I am competitive,” Keenum said. “I’m hoping my team wins. We’ve been working really hard.”

Keenum said more than 100 hours has been invested into the vehicle, which is one of the only built from the ground up.

“We started probably like September or October last year,” she said.

Keenum said her team worked until 1 a.m. Monday and started again at noon Tuesday in preparation.

“A big part of this whole experience is working with a team,” she said. “It’s a really large team. There are six people in my group. Each of us pretty much have a specialty that we do on the car, like one person works on our battery, one person knows the reaction and safety, the mechanics of the car. So, I’ve learned a lot from that.”

Outside the work completed on the car, the group puts together an approximately 80 page engineering design packet for the competition.

Sophomore students in the groups work to make a poster placed on display about their vehicle and how it works. Both car and posters are judged.

While “the engiNERDS” only placed third in the car competition, they placed first with their poster and won the Safety Award. Keenum’s team of junior students along with two other teams, the Golden Geese, who placed second, and the Tesla Tornados, who placed first, will move on to the regional competition at the University of Oklahoma in April. These three teams will compete with others from schools in Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, Missouri and more. The top three to come out of regionals will head to the national competition in San Francisco next fall.

“We’ve had a national contender every year,” Fahlenkamp said. “Last year was the second time to actually place at the national level. We got third place and then one other time we got second place.”

Fahlenkamp said there are many people behind the scenes of the event who help it succeed. Despite who wins or loses, everyone leaves with an education.

“We also have senior mentors that they will stay tied in as well to the project,” she said. “Faculty throughout different classroom experiences, too, will interact with the students and our staff will also go into helping set all this up at the end for the competition.”

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