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Saturday, June 25, 2022

Activities & Organizations

Chem-E car team drives into fifth place


“Zombie Cougalac” being operated during its run at the national competition in Pittsburgh. | Image courtesy of the Chem-E team

A UH team of chemical engineering students took fifth place in the 2012 American Institute of Chemical Engineers National Competition, for their “Zombie Cougalac,” a 29-pound pressure-powered car that was designed with only domestically produced supplies and parts.

This year marks the most success the UH team has seen in the competition.

“There is a regional conference competition around March every year, from where top teams are selected to go into the National Conference in Pittsburgh. This year top schools like Cornell University, John Hopkins, Rutgers, Purdue and many others participated. We not only beat top schools but also every other Texas school,” said team member Rishabh Mahajan.

To win the competition, teams were tasked with constructing a size-limited car that operated via a controlled chemical reaction. Each car would then be judged based on its ability to perform certain functions, said An Dinh, the team’s leader.

“The competition involved two segments, the poster competition and the performance competition,” Dinh said.

“For the poster competition, the design and documentation for the car is evaluated, judged and scored with a strong emphasis on the car’s safety aspects. For the performance aspect, the car must travel a specified distance and carry a specified load. Each team has two runs, and the car that comes closest to the designated line wins.”

Though the Zombie Cougalac presented some minor technical difficulties in its initial run, they were quickly resolved, and the car managed a second run that saw it stop just 0.41 meters short of the line, good enough for fifth place, Dinh said.

The car ran off of a chemical reaction between manganese dioxide and hydrogen peroxide, Mahajan said.

“We added Manganese dioxide pellets to a precalculated amount of hydrogen peroxide, resulting into production of oxygen and water. The pressure builds up and goes into a second tank. The oxygen then travels through a regulator and into an air motor. The air motor is connected to a drive train, which drives the car,” Mahajan said.

The members said they hope to use the recent success to eventually turn the Chem-E car team into an organization so projects can continue rather than having to stop after the competition ends each year.

“This year, we essentially had an all new team. Many of us were inexperienced, but our collective desire to do well was a major driving force in how hard we pushed to quickly set up our team to be competitive,” Dinh said.

“A staggeringly large amount of work over the year goes into a car that competes for just a few minutes.  Our main goal for UH Chem-E-Car is to produce a level of work that does us, the school and our sponsors and supporters proud, year after year.  We will always seek to continue placing high at the national level, and our aspiration as a team is, naturally, to win.”

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