03 Chemical Engineering Research

This event is limited to the first 15 entries

2018 Topic: ChemE Car


Teams of 2 or 3 students will demonstrate their ability to control a chemical reaction by designing and building a ChemE car.  A ChemE car uses one or more chemical reactions to power or control the model car. 

The objective of the competition is to design and build a timing system that uses one or more a chemical reactions to stop the ChemE car at a pre-determined distance by interrupting (switching off) the electrical drive circuit.


Part 1:  Conduct Research and Build Chem-E Car

  • Research your options, then design and build your car, taking into account the event details including Event Day description and Safety Requirements.
  • The battery-operated Chem-E car should be capable of stopping at the assigned distance between 20 and 60* feet by adjusting one or more chemical reactions.  (*distance updated 2/27/18)
  • Test your car and record data before the competition. 
  • Create a video of the car in a working trial, and post to YouTube.
  • Write a report and poster/PowerPoint presentation based on your results and conclusions, using the guidance below, and show how the device is designed upon the principles of chemical engineering, submitting by the deadline.
  • Present your Chem-E car to the judges and see how it runs!

Car Requirements / Restrictions:

  • An over-the-counter purchased battery (such as AA) as a power source
  • Purchased electric drive motor, powered by the battery
  • The car may be built with K’NEX, LEGO, or a car kit purchased from a hobby store.  The car may be a deconstructed model car.  You may build your own car entirely from various parts, as long as the materials are safe and non-toxic, and the size requirement is met.
  • The timing system must use one or more chemical reaction(s) which are adjustable to control the distance your car travels.  Examples are: iodine clock reaction with photoelectric sensor, dissolving metal wire, deposition of metal via electrolysis.  The use of kits for the timing device is not permitted.
  • Remember that a phase change like that of solid dry ice to gaseous carbon dioxide is not a chemical reaction.
  • The car must be not more than 12 inches length and 6 inches width.  All of the components of the car must fit into a box with dimensions of 16" x 12" x 12".
  • The total cost of the finished/modified car shall not exceed $150 regardless of funding source. 
  • The car must be an autonomous vehicle and cannot be controlled remotely.  No communication between the team and the car is allowed after the car is started by the addition of material or removal of a barrier so that the chemical reaction begins.  Pushing to start the vehicle or a mechanical starting device is not allowed. No mechanical force can be used to aid or achieve starting or stopping.
  • You are encouraged to suggest and demonstrate your own chemical timing system based on one or more chemical reactions.

Part 2:   Report Student Findings

The written paper and poster/PowerPoint must adhere to the ACS Style Guide. Citations should follow ACS Style Guidelines.  (Oregon State University Quick Guide: ACS Cititation Style)


Must demonstrate the team’s understanding of the following:

  • The engineering process, showing how the team came to the final timing system used to stop the car presented on the NJCO Event Day.  This should include how changes in each aspect, such as reagent, concentration or amount, and electronic circuitry of the timing system affect the stopping ability of the car.
  • The team's chosen timing mechanism, with final amounts and/or concentrations as appropriate that will be modified to achieve the required distance on the day of the event. 
  • Factors other than the car design and construction that may affect the event's outcome for the team.
  • Any conclusions formed must be based upon your own experimental data from experiments conducted at your own high school facility.  Commercial assistance is not permitted.

The written report may not exceed 10 (ten) pages - 12 point font, double spaced plus Appendices (see below).   Include a cover page that indicates:  the title of the paper, the authors, the school name, and Team A or Team B (if applicable).

All research papers must be built upon information acquired from a minimum of 3 PRIMARY SOURCES.  Although Internet sources may also be utilized in addition to the primary sources judges will be looking at how students select and use information gathered from primary sources

Examples of primary sources include articles found in peer-reviewed professional journals such as:  Nature, Science and Journal of Chemical Education.  Peer-reviewed professional journals are available at post-secondary academic libraries.  Peer-reviewed journals that are accessed online are acceptable.  Magazines such as Discover, Science News, Popular Science and Scientific American, although informatory are not peer-reviewed professional journals. You are required to submit photocopies of the first three pages of each primary source used in your paper.  Abstracts in lieu of articles are not acceptable.

Students are encouraged to use the following resources to learn about the engineering design process and to consider the best way to document the process that they can then share with the judges.  (link to resources pending)

All sources of information must be identified clearly (written sources as well as a list of people who provided assistance).

Required Appendices:

  • Appendix 1:  Documentation of the Engineering Process the team followed diagrams, charts, etc. (Format determined by the team – photocopied Lab Journal is acceptable)
  • Appendix 2:  Safety Plan elaborating on the team’s effort for safe chemical handling and disposal.
  • Appendix 3:  Photocopies of the first 3 pages of the primary source articles used in your research.

2.  VIDEO:  A 3- to 5-minute video of a working trial conducted should be made and posted to YouTube to share with the judges before Event Day.  The video should clearly state where in the design process the team has progressed.  The URL of the video should be sent along with the team’s research paper.  Note: the video does not have to demonstrate the final working model but should demonstrate a functioning model at the most basic level.


Part 3:   Submit Required Materials

  • The written paper and poster/PowerPoint must adhere to the ACS Style Guide.
  • Four (4) copies of the complete report and YouTube URL must be received by the  NJCO Event Coordinator by the deadline indicated in the Competition Guidelines. The reports must be clearly labeled with the school name, Team A or B (if applicable), student names, and coach's name.
  • In addition to submitting 4 paper copies of each research paper, teams are also required to submit their papers to turnitin.com for review.  All submissions must be in the form of a single file in Microsoft Word format.



  1. Present either a freestanding poster (maximum 1 m x 1m) or a PowerPoint presentation that focuses on the engineering design process and describes all major design changes in the team’s prototypes (3-5 minutes).  Include a short (20- to 30-second) video demonstrating their working ChemE car. 
  2. Be prepared to participate in a short question and answer session with the judges.
  3. Student teams will then present their cars.  You will be required to make at least one run with your car with an assigned target distance.  If a car doesn't start, it is at the judges' discretion to allow another run.
  • A distance of between 20 and 60 feet (*distance updated 2/27/18) will be assigned as a target distance for your car.  The closer your car stops to the assigned target distance, the higher your score for this portion of the event.  The distance must be completed in two minutes or less.
  • Details on the track will be communicated at a later date.
  • A team may be disqualified if they are not ready to start at the scheduled time of their presentation or they are not operating safely.
Safety Note:  All laboratory work should follow appropriate safety instructions and be supervised by an instructor or coach.  This includes following the team's submitted Safety Plan, and all pertinent event site safety rules and regulations.                                                                                                                                Neither the transportation from the bus to the event site and back again, nor the set-up, use, and dismantling of the car shall result in any noxious emissions or liquid or solid spills.  See Event Safety Guidelines



​​None at this time.


IMPORTANT:  Learn about the requirements concerning Primary Sources, formatting and citations for your research paper: Research Guidelines and Requirements

The Engineering Research Paper must be received by the NJCO Event Coordinator by the deadline indicated in: Requirement Overview.


  • Written report and YouTube Video of working design – 20%

  • Rationale for engineering design choices – 20%*

  • Oral presentation/Evidence of engineering process – 20%*

  • Achievement of target stop distance – 35%*

  • Safety of operation – 5%*

*Judging criteria for these categories updated 2/27/18.  No category changed more than 10%.

Note that teams deemed to be operating unsafely or with liquid or noxious gaseous discharge will be disqualified and receive a score of -1.