March 21, 2014

After months of preparation, four LSU engineering students are headed to San Juan, Puerto Rico on March 22 to compete at the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE) regional conference’s car competition.

The goal of the LSU AIChE car team is to create a motorized vehicle powered by chemical reactions. The team must calculate the reactions to manipulate the exact distance the car must reach. The team will not know the distance the car is supposed to run until they arrive for the competition, and then they will face further challenges since they are not allowed to test the car on any trial runs once in Puerto Rico.

“It’s about precision. It’s nothing about speed,” said Aubyn Chavez, chemical engineering senior and LSU AIChE car team captain. “You can’t do any trials; you’ll get disqualified. Based on your data, you should be able to compute how much of the reactants you need to be able to go as close to that distance as possible.”

“Whoever comes closest to the mark, over or under, wins the competition and advances to nationals,” said Kelly O’Quinn, chemical engineering junior.

The LSU AIChE team decided to create two chemical reactions for the car: a hydrogen peroxide decomposition reaction to start the car, and an iodine clock reaction as a stopping mechanism.

Chavez said working out the stopping mechanism was the most difficult task for the team, but once they figured it out, she was ecstatic.

“When I tried the iodine clock reaction and it turned the color it was supposed to, I jumped on the person with me,” said Chavez. “When you accomplish things, you get excited with your team.”

Chavez gives credit to her team and to the LSU College of Engineering faculty for pushing the team to succeed.

“I had so many people willing to help me out. Everyone is amazing,” she said.

Staci Duhon, chemical engineering junior, commented that the stress of the project motivated her, and the support of her LSU engineering family gave her encouragement.

“Through this project I’ve learned a great deal about how I work under pressure and I’ve really come to crave the stress of it,” said Duhon. “It means so much to me to be a part of a group of supportive classmates, professors and industry professionals.

Duhon stated the best part of car team is putting all the facts and figures she’s learned in class to work on producing the car.

“A lot of my day consists of sitting in a chair and reading, working problems or listening to a lecture,” Duhon said. “I get so excited to spend any part of my day physically doing the work that I’ve spent semesters learning in a chair.”

Because AIChE’s regional conference is located in Puerto Rico, the LSU AIChE team could not afford to send all its members to the conference. Only Chavez, Duhon, O’Quinn, and Daniel Hulgan– all members of the car team – are attending. Those LSU four students will also compete in the conference’s jeopardy contest.

“It is a very rewarding opportunity to be able to compete and represent LSU with our car,” said O’Quinn.

Other AIChE members will drive to another regional conference in Texas. Though they will not be allowed to compete, they will attend networking dinners and learn more about the chemical industry field.

“None of this stuff counts toward classes. If you want to get involved, it’s because you like doing it,” said Chavez. “It’s really about developing a passion. Even though you’re not getting rewarded for it per se with a good grade, it really does excite you for your major.”


Article by Danielle Kelley, LSU College of Engineering communications intern. For more information, contact Mimi LaValle, College of Engineering, or (225) 578-5706.

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