The 2011 Edible Car Contest

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A speed record was set by a cucumber with Oreo cookie wheels in the Sixth Annual Edible Car Contest at Illinois Valley Community College Wednesday. Beating its closest competition by only one-hundredth of a second, this zippy cuke completed the three-foot run in only .40 seconds.

That entry, called Vicious and Delicious, was designed by Noah Roberts, Jessica Stoens, and Isaiah Roberts. Rumor has it that the team sprayed the axels with a cooking spray to gain some competitive edge.

But the top winner overall was Fury, a sleek vehicle which took First Place in three categories: Creativity, Detail and Prospective Engineers. The body of that pink delight was made of sugar glass, a moldable sugar concoction which gets its name from its resemblance to glass.

While creating the sugar glass was a big challenge for Fury’s creators (Mike Petrone, Kourtney Ewald, and Megan Cook), many of the 75 students who entered the contest said they found the challenges of designing and constructing with food to be the highlight of building their cars.

"It was fun trying different scientific and mathematic approaches," one participant said.

Another described the best part as, "Putting my knowledge and creativity to the test."

Those comments resonate with Dorene Perez, the Program Director of Computer Aided Design/Computer Aided Engineering and one of the organizers of the contest.

"Designing a car from food requires students to use math and science in a creative framework," Perez said. "Our purpose in offering this competition is to demonstrate that math, science and engineering can be creative and fun."

However, a real plus for some participants, as one student said, was "eating the leftovers."

For those students, the prizes -- many of them made of chocolate in keeping with the edible theme – were especially rewarding.

Five teams from two high schools, LaSalle-Peru and Hall, competed and went home with eight prizes including a First Place in Design won by an L-P team, and a Third Place in Speed won by a Hall team.

While teams took home prizes in ten different categories, the speed competition was the highlight of the event, both to participants and to the spectators who crowded the IVCC cafeteria. And that is despite the fact that a number of cars stalled midway, came apart on the track or failed to start rolling or even sliding.

At least one entry stuck to the paper plate on which it was being displayed and a couple of vehicles came apart before they reached the track. Debris (frosting, marshmallow cream, peanut butter, pieces of fruit) which littered the track forced occasional delays while a crew cleaned the track.

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.

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.

"There’s a big push nationally to increase the exposure of young people, but especially women, to science, technology, engineering and math or STEM," Perez said, noting that women make up less than 20 percent of the engineering workforce.

Organized in celebration of National Engineering Week, the contest was sponsored by the IVCC Division of Career and Technical Programs, the Making Industry Meaningful in College (MIMIC) project, and a National Science Foundation grant.

Students from the electronics and engineering technology programs assisted with the activities, and the Student Government Association provided pizza.

Judges were Bob Hunter, IVCC Webmaster; Crystal Loughran, IVCC Security Services; Travis McLaughlin, CAD student; and Ron Wagner, a representative of Electronic Supply.

Organizers of the contest were Perez, Gibson, communications instructor Rose Marie Lynch, and biology instructor Sue Caley Opsal.