“I am incredibly proud of our three Chem-E-Car teams at Lehigh”

AIChE's annual Mid-Atlantic Conference and regional Chem-E-Car Competition was held this year at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, VA. The competition is meant to engage students in designing and constructing a car powered by a chemical energy source, that will safely run a specific distance and stop. The Chem-E-Car Competition, which involves multiple regional competitions and a final competition at the National Annual Student Conference, increases awareness of the chemical engineering field among the public, industry, educators, and fellow students.
On Saturday at the conference, Whitney Blocher McTigue, Assistant Professor, Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering, represented Lehigh during the morning career fair where students were able to connect with multiple academics about graduate school, while Juliana Forero Arevalo ’24 and Devin Dabagian ‘24 pitched Lehigh to host the Mid-Atlantic Regional Conference in 2025. Much to their surprise, it was a success! 
Sunday began with a research poster session, followed by the formal competition. Seniors Marietta Sisca ’23 and Kwaku Oteng ’23 presented the design of Lehigh’s car. They answered numerous questions and demonstrated how the car is put together, from the reactions used to start/stop, along with a detailed history of the overall construction. Teams are evaluated on both design and safety. If they pass the evaluation, they can compete. Some of the judges were particularly impressed with the drive train Sisca designed, as the mechanism tying the power to the motor and then the motor to the axles did not allow for drift, a common issue noted with Chem-E-Cars.
When competing, the distance the cars must traverse is revealed only an hour before the competition starts. Code is then written to randomly select the specified distance, which ranges 15-30 meters. Each team has two chances to reach the distance. The top five closest teams move on to the national competition in November.
There were 17 competing teams from all over the Mid-Atlantic region. “I am incredibly proud of our three Chem-E-Car teams at Lehigh” says Joseph Menicucci, Associate Chair and Teaching Associate Professor, Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering. All approached the problem systematically and had viable start and stop reactions for their car. 
The biggest limitation all three teams faced was time. We only formally re-implemented the Chem-E-Car program at the start of the spring semester. In the future, the program will operate year-round, as is the case with most universities that participate in the program. The team that represented Lehigh at the regional competition designed a car that was incredibly well designed. Unfortunately, there was a catastrophic mechanical failure discovered the evening before the competition that the team was not able to overcome, despite an extraordinary repair by Sisca, the on-site captain in Blacksburg, Virginia, says Menicucci.
Menicucci, who also serves as the Lehigh AIChE Student Chapter Faculty Advisor, goes on to say that the primary goal of this year was not necessarily to compete at the regional or national level. The goal was, instead, to lay the foundation for a successful program in the long term. “I believe our student teams achieved that and much more. The program is in good hands with rising seniors, James Keaney ’24 and Devin Dabagian '24 who will be leading the program and at least one car captain, Khadija Khan ’24”.
The race is on for next year! All Lehigh undergraduate students are welcome to participate in building the 2024 Lehigh Chem-E-Cars. Please contact Keaney or Dabagian for further details.