Campus & Community

Stevens Chapter Hosts Annual AIChE Conference

More than 300 attendees from 30 regional universities had fun with chemistry this month as the Stevens student chapter of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE) hosted the 2012 AIChE Mid-Atlantic Regional Student Conference, one of nine area conferences that take place each year across the country. Spanning the weekend of April 13, the conference featured exciting competitions, informative workshops, eye-opening presentations, and even a dinner cruise featuring national AIChE President David Rosenthal as a guest speaker.

“It was a resounding success!” said Dr. Ronald Besser, professor and program chair of Chemical Engineering and faculty advisor to the Stevens AIChE student chapter.

AIChE is the top organization for chemical engineering professionals, comprised of more than 43,000 members from more than 90 countries. Created in 1908, AIChE strives to promote excellence in the field of chemical engineering by encouraging the development of members through respectable standards, ethics and diversity. The organization also benefits members by connecting them with networking sources and learning opportunities.

At Stevens, the AIChE chapter, currently in its 40th year of chartering, focuses on strengthening the bond between all levels of those devoting themselves to chemical engineering – from undergraduates to professors and everything in between. The group makes chemistry exciting and enjoyable for all by sponsoring events on campus such as “Feel the Chem” and “Exothermic Spring.” It also connects Stevens AIChE members with those from other chapters and presents student research in the field. Since 2009, several chapter members have won national awards, being recognized for outstanding academic achievement and outstanding freshman involvement. 

According to Owen Jappen, who has served as chapter president for the past three years, Stevens was chosen as host of the annual regional conference based on a bid and proposal the chapter submitted two years ago. Last year, the conference was held at Pennsylvania State University.

“Every year, the regional competition changes locations, and this year is the first year that Stevens has ever hosted,” Jappen said.

Planning and preparation has been underway ever since the chapter found it was selected as host.

“First we reached out to companies to get funding for the event,” Jappen said. Sponsors included ExxonMobil, Merck, AIChE and other businesses.

With hundreds of students, faculty, chemical engineering professionals and special guests in attendance, the competitive events of the conference kicked off on Friday evening with Chem-E Jeopardy – a trivia game that tested chemical engineering knowledge. Bucknell University finished first, and Stevens came in second. 

On Saturday, the conference’s hallmark event took place – the Chem-E-Car competition. Eighteen student teams designed and constructed vehicles that were powered by a chemical energy source, and then competed to see which could carry a specified cargo load to a given distance before stopping.

“Entries are basically ‘shoebox sized’ cars that run off of a chemical reaction,” Jappen said. “The trick is that the distance the car needs to travel and the weight it needs to be able to carry aren’t revealed by the judges until the day of the competition, so groups need to prepare their cars for lots of scenarios. Competitors get quite creative.”

Winners of the Chem-E-Car competition were the University of Pittsburgh, the University of Maryland, Johns Hopkins University, Rutgers University and Carnegie Mellon University.

Also on Saturday, there was also a Student Paper competition, in which Andrew Zmolek of the University of Pittsburgh, Melissa Wiegand of Stevens and Laura Duffy of Bucknell won the top prizes for presenting the most cutting-edge chemical engineering research.

All regional winners of the Chem-E-Car competition and the Student Paper competition will travel to Pittsburgh this fall to attend the next level of competition at the 2012 AIChE National Student Conference.

Throughout the rest of the day, attendees sat in on workshops and presentations that covered a wide variety of topics, such as the benefits of AIChE membership, personal finance management tips, and how to apply a Chemical Engineering degree in the financial sector.

The conference concluded with an awards banquet held aboard a hydrogen fuel powered hybrid ship – the maiden voyage of the innovative vessel. As the boat cruised around the New York Harbor, national AIChE President David Rosenthall spoke about renewable energy. Michele Touvelle, director of the Petroleum Science Laboratory at ExxonMobil, also gave a keynote address on the global energy outlook.

Guests were able to enjoy a banquet meal and dance as the evening came to a close.

See photos from the conference at