"Chem-E-Car" Competition

USF students competed in a national competition that runs model cars fueled by chemical reactions.


By Brandi Hollis

USF News


TAMPA, Fla. (Nov. 14, 2012) – One of the most popular elective classes at the University of South Florida’s College of Engineering focuses on only one thing – building a car. But not just any car.


The “Chem-E-Car” is a student-run class project to develop a car that runs solely on a chemical reaction and performs so precisely to make it eligible to compete in a national competition sponsored by the American Institute of Chemical Engineers.


Justin Stottlemyer, left, and Giovanni Quiel, co-chairs of the Chem-E-Car elective class competition. Photo: Brandi Hollis | USF News

For the past five years, students in the USF elective have designed, tested and competed with a shoebox-sized car named “Bull Runner” in the institute’s regional competition, with the hopes of making it into the nationals.


In April, the USF Chem-E-Car Pit Crew placed 2nd in the regional competition, securing a spot in the national event for just the third time.


The Bull Runner is powered by a zinc-carbon battery and its stopping mechanism uses a reaction called the “Halloween Reaction” which changes a solution from clear to orange to black. This chemical color change blocks an LED light from a light sensor. When all light is blocked, the car stops. (View the poster on the project.)


At the national competition in Pittsburg last month, the 35 teams were given a load weight and distance one hour before competition and had to calculate their chemical reactions accordingly. This year each car had to travel 21 meters carrying a load of 300 mg of water. The car that reached the closest to the correct distance without going over won a cash prize of $2,000.


The “Bull Runner” placed 22nd at the national competition, “the highest USF has placed nationally,” said Justin Stottlemyer, a senior majoring in chemical engineering and the team’s co-chair.


Giovanni Quiel is the team’s other co-chair and is also a senior in chemical engineering. Both said the experience on the Chem-E-Car team has helped them learn leadership skills as well gain a real-world understanding of the chemical engineering industry and its proper safety procedures. But the real fun, they said, is in building the car.


“Not all classes are as exciting as this,” said Quiel. If fact, Quiel said that some nights class is so interesting that they stay for hours in the lab working on the car after class is over. The Chem-E-Car class is popular too; next year will be the first time that USF will compete with two Chem-E-Car teams. Stottlemyer and Quiel are already thinking about the new cars for next year’s competition.


“We’ve already started R&D on a new design,” said Stottlemyer. “The goal is to take at least two cars to the next regional conference. One will be a more of an experimental car that is probably less likely to work but a little more unique, and one will be more of a tried-and-true design that we think will actually do well.”


Ryan Toomey, assistant professor of engineering who is the faculty advisor for the elective class, said the students benefit by competing against peers at other universities, and also get to learn about fundraising, teamwork and organizational skills. The elective, a 1-credit independent study, is open to all USF students.


“The experience helps the students develop critical skills that they generally do not learn in the traditional classroom environment, skills nonetheless that are vitally important to future employers,” Toomey said.