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Cullen College Places Second in Chem-E Car Competition
Toby Weber
Some members of the Cullen College's 2011 Chem-E Car team
Some members of the Cullen College's 2011 Chem-E Car team

A team of undergraduates from the UH Cullen College of Engineering took second place at the regional Chem-E Car Competition held last month at Texas A&M University.

The competition, which took place during the American Institute of Chemical Engineers’ Southwest Regional Conference, calls on students to design and build a small vehicle powered by a chemical reaction. During the actual race, teams are given a distance their car must travel (between 50 and 100 feet) and a weight (between zero and 500 milliliters of water) it must carry over that span. Results are based on how close cars come to the specified distance.

The Cullen College’s Chem-E Car team designed a vehicle that is powered by a zink-oxygen battery and employs a stopping mechanism triggered by breaking a circuit. To break the circuit, the team utilized a magnesium filament placed in an acid dip.

“It takes time for the filament to decompose in the acid,” said team captain Walter Barta, a senior chemical engineering major. “The rate of that reaction depends on the concentration of the acid. So we change the concentration of the acid to change the amount of time that we want the car to travel.”

During the competition, the teams were asked to have their cars travel 65 feet while carrying 400 milliliters of water. The Cullen College team came in second place, beaten only by the team from Mexico’s Tech de Monterey. In addition, the Cullen College team came in first in the poster presentation section of the contest.

By placing in the top two in actual car performance, the Cullen College team earned the right to participate in the national Chem-E Car Competition, set for October in Minnesota.

In addition to Barta, team members included William Payne, Tanya Rogers, Ed McDowell and K.C. Schuette. UH AICHE officers Abel Morales, Jorge Cubas and Allen Lo also contributed to the effort. Micky Fleischer, adjunct professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering, served as the team’s faculty advisor.

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