Auburn’s AIChE student chapter looks ahead to national competition

Published: Aug 3, 2021 8:54 AM

By Cassie Montgomery

Come for the networking opportunities, stay for the fierce competitive spirit.

The Auburn University student chapter of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE) recently placed first and second in regional Jeopardy and Chemical Car Team competitions, respectively, and are heading to Boston in November to compete against student teams from around the world at the 2021 AIChE Annual Student Conference. The student organization provides members with industry networking opportunities and exposure to different areas of interest within the field of chemical engineering.

“We did really well this past conference in the car competition. We were very close to beating Florida – they had one really good run and they edged out in front of us,” said Barbara Allen, junior in chemical engineering and captain of the Chemical Car and Jeopardy Teams.

For the chemical car competition, teams are tasked with designing and building a small car that is powered and stopped entirely by chemical reactions. The car must travel a predetermined distance – 23 meters at the 2021 regional competition, for instance – and the car that travels closest to the distance without going over the line wins. The Auburn team divides their chemical car team into three subgroups: the power team, responsible for designing the chemical reaction that will propel the car forward; the stopping team, responsible for the stopping the car’s momentum as close to the distance as possible; and the design team that plans and builds the shoebox-sized vehicle.

“I think last year in the national competition we placed sixth against teams from all over the world, so that’s impressive,” said Christopher DeRocher, Auburn’s AIChE president, power team lead and chemical engineering senior. “As much as I hate to say it, I think a little bit of that might have been luck on our side, but I would love it if we could duplicate that success.”

Luck or not, Auburn has an impressive track record in the Chemical Car competition on the regional and national stage. The team was first formed in 2005 and in the past 12 years, has qualified for the national competition eight times.

While much work goes into designing and building the car, taking home the top honor in the Jeopardy competition at regionals is “a little trickier,” according to DeRocher, who also serves as Jeopardy Team co-captain.

“With the car team, you’ve spent all this time working on your car so you know how well it’s going to do. Whereas with Jeopardy, you don’t know which questions are going to be asked and you don’t know who will be competing on the other teams,” he added.

Just as its television namesake, the Jeopardy competition pits student teams against each other to answer chemical engineering trivia, with a wide range of relevant topics plus a wildcard category.

“We have a senior on the team, a couple of juniors and a sophomore,” Allen explained. “It’s really beneficial to have a wide range of course experience because we may see questions going all the way back to freshmen level calculus. That’s the fun part about Jeopardy – you never know what categories you’re going to get.”

It was an all-Tigers final round at the regional Jeopardy competition with Auburn competing against the teams from LSU and Clemson.

“Everyone was joking saying, ‘the Tigers are going to win,’ but that was actually a really fun game because it was very close at one point,” Allen said. “LSU came back on the second Jeopardy board, where all the points are doubled. The wildcard category that round was sports and they really knew those questions so it made for a really close game. It was just like you would see on TV but with more engineering.”

Membership in AIChE is open to all chemical engineering students, and while participating on the Chemical Car and Jeopardy Teams is optional, both DeRocher and Allen would highly recommend that members get involved in one or both.

“If you’re worried you’re not going to make friends or you’re worried you’re going to feel alone in your major, I think AIChE, Car Team and Jeopardy are really good places to make a lot of really good friends, to start thinking about your career as an engineer and how you can start building those skills that will help you in a job setting later on,” Allen said.

Media Contact: Cassie Montgomery,, 334.844.3668
At left is the Auburn University AIChE Jeopardy team. At right, the Chemical Car team completes a test run of their shoe-box sized vehicle, powered and stopped by chemical reactions.

At left is the Auburn University AIChE Jeopardy team. At right, the Chemical Car team completes a test run of their shoe-box sized vehicle, powered and stopped by chemical reactions.

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