“Rocket cars” put engineering previewers in driver’s seat
On Friday, January 21, about sixty previewing engineering students were challenged to see who could build a car out of household materials and make it go furthest, powered by nothing except vinegar and baking soda. The students worked in teams of two or three and experienced LeTourneau engineering first-hand in the process.
“Dr. Graff and I were brainstorming in my office, and first we wanted to do bottle rockets, but campus security wouldn’t allow that even for professors,” Dr. Matthew Green explained. “So we toned it down a bit and settled for baking soda and vinegar rockets.”
The previewers were given forty-five minutes to build their cars by using straws, skewers, paper cups, tape, and compact discs for wheels. Although its materials list might sound like that of a third-grade science project, the rocket car competition was intended to give previewing students an introduction to what real engineering students do at LeTourneau. “We’d like them to get a taste of the creative design process and if they like that, consider majoring in engineering,” Dr. Green said. He explained that since all the rocket cars started with the same amount of fuel, getting one to go the furthest would be synonymous with designing a real car to get the most miles-per-gallon.
Several professors and engineering upperclassmen were on hand to supervise the car-building competition and to answer previewers’ questions. “We’re there to answer any more specific questions they have about access to labs and what exactly the [engineering] concentrations are,” said Kevin Roadcap, a LeTourneau senior majoring in Materials Joining Engineering.
Previewer reaction to the competition was positive. Chase Zech and Alana Alston, both previewing students, struggled to get their car completed on time, but they were still optimistic about their chances. “I think our car will win,” said Chase, who is considering civil or mechanical engineering at LeTourneau. Alana also expressed optimism about their car, and said she was impressed with what she saw at LeTourneau. On the track, Chase and Alana’s car went an above-average 15’6”. Elizabeth Earnest and Rebeckah Cramblitt designed a car that traveled 27’4”, however, allowing their car to take first place in the entire competition.
This year’s competition for engineering previewers continues a LeTourneau tradition. “It’s been going on at least six years,” Dr. Green said. “We do a different thing every year. One year we did wind turbines, one year we did rocket-powered paper airplanes, [and] this is the first time we’ve done this specific thing.”