Chemical Engineering Students are National Champions

Northeastern University engineering students won top prizes in competition at the American Institute of Chemical Engineers’ (AIChE) national student conference, held last week in Nashville, Tennessee. Teams from Northeastern took first place in the eleventh annual Chem-E-Car Competition, and a team award for safety protocols as well as an honorable mention in the Student Design Contest.

Chem-E-Car Competition

Matched up against 30 teams from colleges across the country, 10 Northeastern students earned the first-place prize of $2,000, as well as the judges’ accolades.

The students’ challenge was to design a car that would be both powered and controlled by chemical reactions, said Katherine Ziemer, the DiPietro associate professor of electrical engineering and the team’s faculty advisor.

The winner would be the team that got its car to stop closest to the finish line—77 feet from the start line—while transporting 250 milliliters of water. Adding to the challenge: these specifications were not given to the students until one hour prior to the competition.

Northeastern’s car stopped less than seven inches from the finish line.

The vehicle, which the team members worked on for nearly a year, was powered by an environmentally clean hydrogen fuel cell, using a chemical reaction produced by combining sodium hydroxide, aluminum foil and water to yield hydrogen.

The team also designed an electric circuit, which they attached to the motor, to control how far the car traveled. Using another chemical reaction, the students were able to “program” the vehicle so that it would stop at a certain point. 
“This competition allowed us to use our skills and knowledge to solve a truly relevant worldwide issue — running a car on alternative fuels,” said Patrick McMahon, the team’s captain and a senior chemical engineering student. “While the car is small, it shows that this technology could possibly be a viable option for automobiles in the future.”

McMahon’s teammates included: Emma Chory, ’12; Jason Crater, ’10; Matt DiNitto, ’12; Anthony Fusco, ’12; Michael Hess, ’12; Aaron Lamoureux, ’12; Tim Lund, ’10; Emily Nelson, ’12; and Samantha Wallner ’12.

Student Design Contest

One student team from Northeastern won the Jack Wehman Team Award for applying optimal safety protocols to their design, while a second Northeastern team in the contest won an honorable mention for its overall design.

In the design contest, chemical engineers from a designated company devise and judge a student contest problem that typifies a real, working, chemical engineering design situation. The problem's solution requires a wide range of skills in calculation and evaluation of both technical data and economic factors. The challenge this year required the teams to design a chemically safe and efficient process to create butanol, an alternative to gasoline.

The team award winners — Rhiannon Quirk, ’09, James Sims, ’09, and Elizabeth Wienslaw, ’09 —focused on the safety of the workers involved in the process, as well as how to best protect the environment, gaining a $300 cash prize as well as the Wehman award.

The Honorable Mention-winning team from Northeastern included Andrew Grant ’09, Joseph Clegg, ’09, and Kyle Stephens, ’09. 

For more information, please contact Jenny Catherine Eriksen at 617-373-2802 or at

Related Departments:Chemical Engineering