November 08, 2010

Bucknell team members in Salt Lake City.

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By Sam Alcorn

LEWISBURG, Pa. — Bucknell University engineers took third place in the national ChemE Car Competition in Salt Lake City this past weekend — their best finish since the national competition started in 1999.

Today, the news got even better with word that Bucknell students took first place in four of the 10 poster competition categories.

In the ChemE Car Competition, the Bucknell team finished just behind Cornell University and Florida State University in a test of the nation's best to design, build and power a vehicle using alternative fuels and innovative materials at the Salt Palace Convention Center in the 12th annual collegiate competition. Sponsored by the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE), some 32 colleges and universities competed this year.

It was the same city where in 2007 Bucknell placed fifth at nationals, the University's best finish until that time.

'Best finish ever'
"This is our best finish ever," Tim Raymond, associate professor of chemical engineering and team adviser, said in an email from Salt Lake City. || See WHTM-TV video of team preparation || Competition video

First-, second- and third-place teams receive cash prizes of $2,000, $1,000, and $500, respectively. And national collegiate bragging rights.

Bucknell ChemE Car Team undergraduates, sponsored by Air Products and Chemicals Inc., are team captain and mechanical engineer Andrew Lowrie '11 and chemical engineers Ashley Magurany '11; Zachary Oberholtzer '13; Jungyun "Chris" Lim '12; Amanda Britton, '11 and Bucknell AIChE chapter president; Mara Liebgott '11; Brian Priolo '11; Drew Bundschuh '11; Eric Dybeck '11, Drew Hackman '11; Megan Wilson '13; Mark Paleafico '13; and chemical engineering graduate student Ian Hasson. 

Testing the prowess of engineering students to apply real-world applications of chemical engineering to power America's real-life vehicles in the future, team members design and construct a shoe-box size car and power it with alternative fuels. The vehicle must be designed to also carry a specified cargo. The car-like vehicles are powered by chemical reactions of alternative fuels created by the students.

On-the-fly calculations
Here's the tricky part: The student engineers aren't told the distance the car must travel or the amount of cargo it must carry until just before competition. That twist requires a host of on-the-fly precision calculations. The competition's winner is determined by a combined score — for traveling the best correct distance and for creativity.

The Bucknell vehicle was powered by polymer electrolyte membrane fuel cells running on pure hydrogen gas. In the past, other teams have powered their vehicles with fuels as exotic as beef liver and hydrogen peroxide reactions.

"This year the course, announced only one hour before the race, was set at 95 feet and the cars were to carry a weight of 250 grams of water," said Raymond. "Bucknell went first by random draw and our first run landed us 11 feet, eight inches from the line — a very good first run that kept us in first place for the next five cars and kept us in the top five after the entire first round.

"Our second run landed a mere 29 inches from line securing us the second best distance behind Cornell University's 20.5 inches from the line, but Florida State managed to also get 29 inches on their second run and tied with Bucknell for second place. Since Florida State's first run was a little better than Bucknell's, they were awarded second place and Bucknell officially ended with third."

Competitors at the Sale Lake City event included University of Tulsa, Oklahoma State University, Louisiana State University, University of Puerto Rico, Auburn University, Stanford University, University of California-Davis, Washington State University, University of Massachusetts-Amherst, Northeastern University, Manhattan College, The Cooper Union, Arizona State University, Michigan Technological University, and Texas A&M-College Station.

The Bucknell team earned the opportunity to compete in Salt Lake City by taking second place in the Mid-Atlantic ChemE Car Competition held at Johns Hopkins University this past April where more than 250 participants from 22 eastern region colleges and universities competed.

In today's poster competition, Bucknell students took first place in four of the 10 categories judged by academic and industrial AIChE members, while a fifth Bucknell student locked in a second-place finish.

Poster winners
First place included Damon Vinciguerra '11 for Computing and Process Control; graduate student Ian Hasson for Petrochemicals and Alternative Energy; Stephanie Evans '11 for General Posters; and Janet Tesfai '11 for Separations. William Holler '11 took second place in the category of Material Science. (The five winners are pictured at left.)

The AIChE's 2010 annual fall national convention brought more than an estimated 7,000 participants to Salt Lake City. All told, Bucknell brought 23 students and eight faculty members to the conference for various competitions and for the annual professional conference.

Contact: Division of Communications


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