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BYU students compete in chemical-run car competition

Chemical engineering students demonstrated top-notch teamwork in a contest for vehicles that run on chemical reactions.

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A team of BYU students placed in the top three in the Pacific Northwest Regional “Chem-E-Car" Conference in Corvallis, Oregon on April 15, 2023.

The American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE) sponsors annual Chem-E-Car competitions throughout the U.S. in which college students design and construct model vehicles that can travel a given distance using the power of a chemical reaction.

Because of scheduling conflicts and other challenges, BYU’s 2022 Chem-E-Car team was unable to prepare a functioning vehicle in time for the competition that year. In 2023, a new team of first-time participants had to start from scratch. Chemical engineering students Isaac Garlick, Ricardo Rodriguez, Niccolo Rosborough, and Kaylen Ward took a unique approach to the competition.

“We decided we would use lithium-ion batteries to power our car,” Garlick said. “None of our team members had prior knowledge about making lithium batteries and the intricate details of how they work.”

When they showed their original design to an advisor, the students learned that they would need far more battery power to make the car move.

“We gritted our teeth and drew up plans for larger batteries to provide a greater capacity and more power,” said Garlick. “We became a battery factory.”

After multiple revisions of the car design and many hours of assembling batteries, the students’ efforts paid off on competition day. Their final product, a lithium-ion battery-powered vehicle nicknamed “Mouse Droid,” ultimately earned the BYU students second place in the poster presentation competition and third place in the car competition.

“Our design impressed the judges since it was new and different from previous years,” said Rodriguez.

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The 2023 Chem-E-Car team was backed by the BYU Weidman Center, which offers grants to help fund leadership experiences for engineering students.

“Competitions like this are a prime opportunity for students to practice leadership skills in an engineering context,” said Heather Conover, coordinator for the Weidman Center. “The previous year had been a setback, and they had to start things over again . . . and it takes a lot of leadership ability to do that.”

In addition to student funding, the Weidman Center offers monthly leadership workshops and a leadership certificate program for engineering students who want to develop skills in problem solving, teamwork, and communication. Conover said that the certificate program provides students with “opportunities while they're an undergraduate to practice what they're doing in that kind of a real-world environment.”

The 2023 regional Chem-E-Car competition was one such opportunity. Engineering students who participated came away not only with awards, but with valuable collaboration and communication skills.

“We had to make many difficult decisions and adjustments along the way,” Ward said. “The competition was an irreplaceable experience that helped give me a better idea of what real engineering will be like.”

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