The 2009 Edible Car Contest

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The wheels fell off of the Magic School Bus at the start of the race track, but that entry emerged as the top winner in the Edible Car Contest at Illinois Valley Community College.

Designed by a team of students in a nutrition course, that vehicle, constructed of a spaghetti squash with potato wheels, took First Place in three categories despite its failure to qualify for the speed prizes.

The Fourth Annual Edible Car Contest, held Feb. 25 in celebration of National Engineers Week, required teams to construct vehicles entirely of food. The designers of the Magic School Bus were lucky that speed was only one category in which the edible delights were judged.

Prizes were awarded for design, creativity, detail, nutritional value, judges’ favorite and in a few special categories. In keeping with the edible theme, the prizes included chocolate trophies and NASCAR pasta.

For the speed prizes, vehicles were timed as they rolled, or slid, down a three-foot ramp. The Magic School Bus was not the only vehicle to lose its wheels. Some entries stalled midway or failed to start rolling – even with a less than gentle push. A couple encountered problems in the pit – coming apart as their designers carried them to the track. One came apart when it was placed in the display area, well before the speed trials.

The 90 students and 7 faculty/staff members in the contest said they found teamwork to be a major highlight of building the cars. As one student said, the best part was "hearing the ideas of my group."

Being able to eat the extra or broken parts was another plus. A nursing student described it as "a fun way to play with your food."

The purpose of the competition, however, was to demonstrate that math, science and engineering can be creative and fun.

"Designing a car from food requires students to use math and science in a creative framework," said Dorene Perez, Program Director of Computer Aided Design/Computer Aided engineering and one of the organizers of the competition.

Judging by the excitement of the participants and the animated reactions of the students who crowded the college cafeteria for the speed trials and prize ceremony, the contest accomplished the fun part.

Students also demonstrated an understanding of the scientific principles behind their designs, with many of them acknowledging that axles were a design challenge. One student acknowledged "learning the importance of weight distribution."

Other students simply expressed pride and surprise in their accomplishment, described by one student as "making something out of nothing."

The top winning team of Pam Dalrymple, Nora Wren, Stephanie Hook and Emily Stasell scored a First Place in Nutrition, First in Creativity, a tie for First in Judges’ Favorite, and a Third Place tie in Detail.

The First Place in Speed was a slim and trim entry entitled the Noodle Wagon. It was the overall second place winner by also earning a First Place tie for Judges’ Favorite, a Third Place tie in Design and a Third Place tie in Creativity. Noodle Wagon was built by Scott Nelson, Shannon Smith, Brent O’Connor and Josh Gwen.

The cars may have been low tech, but the timing for the speed competition was decidedly high tech. Under the guidance of Jim Gibson, the Program Director of Electronics, electronics students designed, programmed and built a programmable logic controller (PLC) to time the speed on the track. The control was connected to a computer running Rockwell Automated software. The timing setup utilized a reflective photo eye at the start and finish.

Debris dropped or smeared on the track as the cars rolled, or slid, required regular cleanup leading to some delays in the speed runs.

Student teams were required to include at least one female since encouraging more women to consider careers in engineering technology is a goal of the contest.

"There’s a big push nationally to increase the exposure of women to science, technology, engineering and math or STEM," Perez said.

Based on the fact that 60 percent of the students who participated were women, the competition succeeded in appealing to women.

The contest was sponsored by the Division of Career and Technical Programs and the Making Industry Meaningful In College (MIMIC) project. For the first three years, the contest was supported by a National Science Foundation grant.

Leadership Team students from the electronics and engineering technology programs assisted with the activities and the Student Government Association provided pizza.

Judges were Bob Reese, business professor; Francie Skoflanc; program director of graphic design; and Travis McLaughlin, CAD student.

Organizers of the contest were Perez, Gibson, and communications instructor Rose Marie Lynch.