Interns race to victory at Chem-E-Car competition

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Sandia chem-e-car team photo
BETTER RACING THROUGH CHEMISTRY — A team of Sandia interns from the University of New Mexico took top honors at the annual regional Chem-E-Car race sponsored by the American Institute of Chemical Engineers. Posing with the winning racer are (left to right) Rose Lee, Rebecca Tafoya, Ryan Hill, Forrest Cheek, who is the sole UNM team member not at Sandia, and Derek Nelson.  (Photos courtesy of the Colorado School of Mines)

A team of hot-rodding, car constructing interns from Sandia took first place in the annual Chem-E-Car competition last month at the Colorado School of Mines in Golden.

The mission, for the 13 college teams that chose to accept it, was to carry a load of water a specified distance randomly selected an hour prior to the competition. The team that came closest to the finish line would win.

The competition was part of the 2019 American Institute of Chemical Engineers Rocky Mountain regional conference.

The UNM team got closest, rolling to a stop just 1.77 feet short of the finish line, with the second-place team more than three feet back from the line. UNM also finished in the fastest time, and captured third place for their poster.

The Sandia interns devised batteries that used aluminum foil and activated carbon to propel the car. To stop the car at the right spot, they built an iodine clock from iodine tincture, hydrogen peroxide, cornstarch and Vitamin C tablets.

team members work on chem-e-car

Sandia student interns on the winning team from UNM included Ryan Hill, Derek Nelson, Rebecca Tafoya and Rose Lee. Forrest Cheek of UNM also was part of the team.

Derek and Ryan work in the Integrated Materials Laboratory and Rebecca and Rose work at the Sandia/UNM Advanced Materials Laboratory, whose research focuses on the synthesis and characterization of materials and on processing and manufacturing, often for energy-related solutions and technologies.

“Last year, the AIChE UNM student chapter didn’t even have a Chem-E-Car team,” David Arnot, UNM AIChE vice president, told a UNM reporter. “Typically, other schools just refurbish and recycle cars from previous years, so it was a huge accomplishment to have won the regional competition with a car made from scratch.”

The Lobo vehicle qualified for the national competition in November in Orlando, Florida, where it will compete with cars from around the world.