The debris on the side of the track looked like the remains of a food fight, but it was the result of a friendly competition that was the highlight of the Fifth Annual Edible Car Contest at Illinois Valley Community College.
Many of the cars IVCC students built of food items disintegrated on the race track during the contest held Feb. 24 in celebration of National Engineers Week. The fastest vehicle, a not very sleek looking cucumber with rice cake wheels, managed to stay mostly intact until it crossed the finish line – traveling the 3 foot inclined track in .47 seconds, just .02 of a second faster than the second place finisher.
A number of vehicles careened off the track, some came apart as they rolled, or slid, down the ramp, and a couple stalled midway or failed to start rolling – even with a less than gentle push.
Speed, however, was only one category in which the vehicles competed. Prizes were awarded for best overall entry and for design, creativity, detail, nutritional value, most colorful, most durable, and in a few special categories. In keeping with the edible theme, the prizes included trophies filled with chocolate and NASCAR cocoa.
The 60 students who competed in the contest said they found the challenges of creating an edible car that worked to be the highlight of participating. One student said his favorite was "the trial and error, and rebuilding." Another student said the real fun was "eating the parts and laughing when we failed."
The purpose of the competition 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 their top design challenge. One student admitted that "nothing worked the way I thought."
The Best Overall car, a bread stick body with spaghetti axels named Car Ramrod, was designed by Bryan Cole, Natalie Nelson and Jennilea Gentry. Car Ramrod also took a third in Speed.
The fastest car, Plan B designed by Luke Maltas, Janet Hunt, Doug Donaway and Douglas Goulding, also captured second place in Detail.
This year, for the first time, two teams of Hall High School students who are taking IVCC dual credit classes participated in the contest and went home with prizes. Cars From Calculus, built by Macee Lentz, Christina Richardson, and Claire Faletti won First in Nutrition and First in the IVCC/High School special category. Da Wolf Pack, designed by Ben Dagraedt, Gabriella Dhesse, and Michele Victor, received a special prize for Most Durable after surviving four runs down the speed track. Their slim and trim pasta creation hugged the track so closely that it failed to trip the electronic timers despite repeated tries.
Despite the technical problems Da Wolf Pack had, 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, and some cars smashed into the electronic timing mechanism, requiring regular cleanup and causing 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 one goal of the contest.
"Women hold less than 20 percent of the engineering jobs," Perez said. "There’s a big push nationally to increase the number of women in science, technology, engineering and math."
Since half of the students who participated were women, the contest apparently succeeded in appealing to women.
The contest was sponsored by the Division of Career and Technical Programs and the Masking Industry Meaningful In College (MIMIC) project and was supported by a National Science Foundation grant.
Leadership Team students from electronics and engineering technology programs assisted with the activities, and the Student Government Association provided pizza.
Judges were Michelle Story, computer laboratory instructor; Crystal Loughran, administrative assistant; and Koshu Jagasia, English professor.
Organizers of the contest were Perez, Gibson, life science professor Sue Caley Opsal, and communications instructor Rose Marie Lynch.