North­eastern Uni­ver­sity engi­neering stu­dents won top prizes in com­pe­ti­tion at the Amer­ican Insti­tute of Chem­ical Engi­neers’ (AIChE) national stu­dent con­fer­ence, held last week in Nashville, Ten­nessee. Teams from North­eastern took first place in the eleventh annual Chem-​​E-​​Car Com­pe­ti­tion, and a team award for safety pro­to­cols as well as an hon­or­able men­tion in the Stu­dent Design Contest.

Chem-​​E-​​Car Com­pe­ti­tion

Matched up against 30 teams from col­leges across the country, 10 North­eastern stu­dents earned the first-​​place prize of $2,000, as well as the judges’ accolades.

The stu­dents’ chal­lenge was to design a car that would be both pow­ered and con­trolled by chem­ical reac­tions, said Katherine Ziemer, the DiP­i­etro asso­ciate pro­fessor of elec­trical engi­neering and the team’s fac­ulty advisor.

The winner would be the team that got its car to stop closest to the finish line—77 feet from the start line—while trans­porting 250 mil­li­liters of water. Adding to the chal­lenge: these spec­i­fi­ca­tions were not given to the stu­dents until one hour prior to the competition.

Northeastern’s car stopped less than seven inches from the finish line.

The vehicle, which the team mem­bers worked on for nearly a year, was pow­ered by an envi­ron­men­tally clean hydrogen fuel cell, using a chem­ical reac­tion pro­duced by com­bining sodium hydroxide, alu­minum foil and water to yield hydrogen.

The team also designed an elec­tric cir­cuit, which they attached to the motor, to con­trol how far the car trav­eled. Using another chem­ical reac­tion, the stu­dents were able to “pro­gram” the vehicle so that it would stop at a cer­tain point.

This com­pe­ti­tion allowed us to use our skills and knowl­edge to solve a truly rel­e­vant world­wide issue — run­ning a car on alter­na­tive fuels,” said Patrick McMahon, the team’s cap­tain and a senior chem­ical engi­neering stu­dent. “While the car is small, it shows that this tech­nology could pos­sibly be a viable option for auto­mo­biles in the future.”

McMahon’s team­mates included: Emma Chory, ’12; Jason Crater, ’10; Matt DiNitto, ’12; Anthony Fusco, ’12; Michael Hess, ’12; Aaron Lam­oureux, ’12; Tim Lund, ’10; Emily Nelson, ’12; and Samantha Wallner ’12.

Stu­dent Design Contest

One stu­dent team from North­eastern won the Jack Wehman Team Award for applying optimal safety pro­to­cols to their design, while a second North­eastern team in the con­test won an hon­or­able men­tion for its overall design.

In the design con­test, chem­ical engi­neers from a des­ig­nated com­pany devise and judge a stu­dent con­test problem that typ­i­fies a real, working, chem­ical engi­neering design sit­u­a­tion. The problem’s solu­tion requires a wide range of skills in cal­cu­la­tion and eval­u­a­tion of both tech­nical data and eco­nomic fac­tors. The chal­lenge this year required the teams to design a chem­i­cally safe and effi­cient process to create butanol, an alter­na­tive to gasoline.

The team award win­ners — Rhi­annon Quirk, ’09, James Sims, ’09, and Eliz­a­beth Wienslaw, ’09 —focused on the safety of the workers involved in the process, as well as how to best pro­tect the envi­ron­ment, gaining a $300 cash prize as well as the Wehman award.

The Hon­or­able Mention-​​winning team from North­eastern included Andrew Grant ’09, Joseph Clegg, ’09, and Kyle Stephens, ’09.