Students from universities throughout the western USA gathered at USC’s University Park Campus on April 5th and 6th as part of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers’ Western Region Student Conference, where they took part in session presentations and regional competitions, in a celebration of chemical engineering student achievements.
The outgoing President of AIChE at USC, Joseph Stiles, said that around 300 visitors joined staff and students from the Mork Family Department of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science for the two-day conference, the first time that USC had hosted the event since 2002.
“We started planning about a year and a half ago and raised something on the order of $25,000, so it was a lot of work,” Stiles said.
“AIChE at USC has never really had sponsors in the past, so this really made us take a hard look at how we’ve been reaching out to people for sponsorships and as a result we were able to get a lot more this year. We also developed good relationships with companies like Applied Materials whose Chief Technical Officer, Dr. Omkaram Nalamasu, was our keynote speaker,” he said.
The centerpiece of the event was the Chem-E Car competition where student teams were tasked with designing a shoebox sized car running entirely on chemical energy, with a chemical stopping mechanism. Cars must carry a designated weight and winners are determined by whichever vehicle is closest to a specified stopping distance.
“So you’re not allowed to have any mechanical brakes, or any kind of code that says to stop after a certain distance,” Stiles said.
“Our team uses the iodine clock reaction, in which you mix two clear liquids together and then depending on the concentrations of those liquids, the reaction will take longer, and after some period of time the liquid turns black. Our car has a laser on one side of the vial and a photoresistor on the other side. We have it set so that when the liquid goes black, it stops reading the amount of light coming through the vial and completely shuts off the car,” Stiles said.
The USC team also won the event’s annual Chem-E Jeopardy quiz; a contest they have been reigning regional champions of for three out of the past four years. Stiles said the USC team would now go on to compete in the national Chem-E Jeopardy finals during November.