Undergrads Host AIChE Conference; Chem-E Car Shelldon Heads to National Competition

Photos from the AIChE Mid-Atlantic Student Conference, April 2015

In a dramatic finish, Carnegie Mellon literally inched out the University of Maryland in the 2015 Chem-E Car Competition, held at the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE) Mid-Atlantic Student Conference. The Terps’ second place finish still qualifies them for the national competition, to be held at the annual meeting of the AIChE in Salt Lake City, Utah in November. Jump to Results »

Chem-E Car was just one of the activities at the conference, which was organized by UMD’s student chapter of the AIChE and hosted on the College Park campus April 10-11. More than 300 students and their advisors attended from universities in Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, and Virginia.

Additional photos and coverage can be viewed on the conference’s Facebook page and the Thursty Turtles’ Chem-E Car Facebook page.

Keynote and Banquet Addresses

Steven Chalk (B.S. '83), Deputy Assistant Secretary for Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, presented the conference’s keynote address. Chalk oversees the nation's "clean energy portfolio," including wind, solar, geothermal, hydropower, biomass, and hydrogen technologies. He has also worked to integrate renewable technologies into the U.S.'s electric grid, implemented $17 billion in research grants, and supported the creation of new clean energy tax programs.

Chalk will return to campus on May 5 to deliver ChBE’s annual Distinguished Alumnus/a Seminar, co-hosted this year with the University of Maryland Energy Research Center. More Information »

AIChE President and Fellow Cheryl Teich spoke at the conference’s banquet and awards ceremony. She currently serves as the Process Engineering and Reaction Engineering Leader at the Dow Chemical Company. Teich considers herself an “expert generalist” in process development, scale up, reaction engineering, and problem solving. Her career has focused on process development and scale up of specialty materials.

"One of my favorite parts of the conference was Cheryl Teich describing the football inflation scandal ["Deflategate"], in demonstrative fashion, as an example of gauge versus absolute pressure units confusion," says ChBE professor and chair Sheryl Ehrman.

Chem-E Car Competition Results

Fifteen cars from thirteen schools competed in this year’s Chem-E Car Competition, which challenges students to design and construct small, chemically powered model vehicles. The cars must carry a specified cargo over a distance only revealed at the competition, and stop as close to a finish line as possible. Any kind of chemical reaction may be used. Each team must carefully calculate the duration of the reaction required when they are told how far their vehicle must travel. This year, AIChE officials announced a target distance of 22 meters (72.18 feet) and a payload of 300 mL (10.14 ounces) of water.

Team Thirsty Turtles, fielded its fifth Chem-E car, Shelldon. Shelldon proved to be the most consistent and reliable car overall, but was a mere five centimeters (1.9 inches) farther from the finish line than Carnegie Mellon’s vehicle after the teams’ second run. Virginia Tech placed third, the City College of New York placed fourth, and Johns Hopkins University rounded out the top five teams, which are now qualified to compete at the national level.

“We are very pleased with winning second [place],” says team member and AIChE student chapter president Katie Pohida. “Even though another team came in first, our car performed almost perfectly.”

Shelldon, she explains, is powered by a reaction that has never been used in a Chem-E Car before. “Most teams use some form of a pressure timed reaction or the iodine clock reaction. [Ours] is unique because it continually oscillates, giving us another avenue in timing the car. Counting oscillations gives us the ability to target any distance the judges may give us…our reaction team and their leader, Alyssa Brown, spent countless hours trying to perfect the color, period of oscillation, and clarity of the solution. Our reaction is very sensitive to changes in concentration, so they definitely need to be exact when measuring chemicals. “

Team Thirsty Turtles is sponsored by BASF, W.L. Gore & Associates, W.R. Grace, and the generous donors who participated in the team’s recent UMD Launch crowdfunding campaign.

Professional Workshops

The conference offered four professional workshops designed to help students prepare for careers in chemical engineering. Session topics included understanding corporate culture, process simulations in the real world, interviewing strategies, membership in AIChE after graduation, consulting, careers in national agencies, and how to host forums and dinners. A special research-oriented session and laboratory tours were presented by ChBE assistant professors Amy Karlsson and Dongxia Liu.


The conference hosted undergraduate research poster and paper competitions that attracted more than 50 total entries. Major Steve Winter (United States Military Academy) and Assistant Professor Mary Staehle (Rowan University) judged the posters. Paper presentations were judged by members of the National Capital Section of the AIChE, including Dr. Milind B. Ajinkya, Dr. Cynthia DeBisschop, Dr. Marshall Lih, Dr. Treniece Terry, ChBE associate professor Dr. Nam Sun Wang, and Dr. Robert Wellek.

Poster Competition Winners (5-way tie for 1st place):

  • Ingrid J. Paredes, Rutgers University: Residence Time Distribution Studies on a Rotary Calciner with Flights
  • Long B. Nguyen, Lafayette College: A Parametric Study on the Size and Alignment of Electrospun PLGA Nanofibrous Matrices
  • Jonathan D. Hughes, University of Pittsburgh: Dynamic Reactor Simulations of Chemical Looping Combustion
  • Andrew J. L. Reszka, Bucknell University: Predicting Three Phase Boundary Density and Interfacial Areas through Mechanistic Modeling
  • Gautam Swamynathan, University of Pittsburgh: A Study on the Detection, Breakdown, and Soot-Suspending Properties of Styrene-Butadiene Rubber (SBR) Micelles

Paper Presentation Winners:

  • 1st Place – Mark Sharp, Rowan University: Bisphenol A Exposure Affects Cognitive Development in Schmidtea mediterranea During Head Regeneration
  • 2nd Place – Beril Polat, The Johns Hopkins University: Self-Folding Single Cell Grippers
  • 3rd Place – Alexander Yang, University of Virginia: Stable Conformations of Lacritin and Syndecan-1 Fragments from Molecular Dynamics Simulations


Other activities included ChemE Jeopardy, which the University of Maryland won, qualifying them to compete at the national conference; and a Student Bash. The conference concluded with a banquet and awards ceremony.

Published April 21, 2015