University of Massachusetts Amherst

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UMass AIChE Chapter Sends 25 Members to Northeast Conference

Lucas Blauch

The UMass Amherst chapter of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE) sent 25 members to the 2014 Northeast Student Regional AIChEConference, held this year at the University of Connecticut, with 350 students in attendance. The event attracted undergraduate chemical engineering students from 21 schools, traveling from as far away as McGill, Cornell, and Maine, to as near as UMass Amherst and the University of New Haven. The regional event featured the popular Chem-E Car race, the Chem-E Jeopardy Challenge, student paper and poster competitions, and a host of workshops to help students with their networking and job-hunting skills. The UMass contingent was led by UMass AIChE chapter president Lucas Blauch, a senior who will attend Stanford University next year as a graduate student.

Blauch, who is an accomplished guitarist, band leader, and certified Little League umpire from Harvard, Massachusetts, is making certain that the UMass Amherst chapter fulfills the professional needs of the 130 students in the campus chapter.

“What we’re trying to do is bring the entire chemical engineering group on campus together, especially the underclassmen, to educate them about the many opportunities for professional chemical engineers,” explains Blauch. “We’re trying to stage a lot of events to stimulate intellectual conversation so our students are prepared to graduate, continue learning, and have a good career.”

In that context, this conference was one of the main events.  

“The reason I attended was because I wanted to promote this conference for future years, and show our members how great they can be for your professional development,” says Blauch. “One of the best things about this conference is that you really get to know students from other universities, and continue to see them at other AIChE events.”

One of the conference highlights each year is the Chem-E Car competition. Although the UMass entry was disqualified on a technicality that the UMass team was unaware of, the design, building, and testing of the UMass Chem-E Car proved to be one of the most exciting educational activities of the whole year. The Chem-E Car team leader was Christian Haughwout, an ambitious junior ChE/physics/astronomy triple major, and the project was generously sponsored by ExxonMobil.

The object of the Chem-E Car is to produce a model car from the ground up that can utilize the proper mixture of fuel to go a precise distance, revealed only hours before the competition, and then stop on a dime. In this case, the distance was 25 meters.

“Of course, the most valuable part of the competition is what we learned from planning, designing, and building the car, as well as the value added by learning how to work on a team,” explains Blauch. “The competition is secondary. There is a lot of stuff we learned, including coding; we had a bunch of scripts that were run in Python to get the car to run and stop. A lot of chemistry. Overall I think we learned a lot.”

Another hotly contested competition was theChem-E Jeopardy Challenge, with trivia categories that included kinetics, thermodynamics, heat transfer, and more chemical-engineering related topics.

The conference also featured a host of workshops based on networking and job finding. Blauch felt the networking workshop was the most important for this particular conference, “simply because that’s what you were really doing there. One thing you will find out at these conferences is that networking can be a lot of fun. Networking in AIChE—meeting students from all over, with different interests and experiences than you— will help you focus on what you want to do and target the activities that will get you there. That’s one of the main things we’re trying to help our members do.”

UMass Amherst had several students who participated in the poster presentations: Nat Eagan, Katharine Greco, Emma Klinkhammer, and Elena Pandres.

Other chapter members who attended the conference were: Ethan Kadis, Logan Riley, Harris Zhao, Tim Moriarty, Michael Fitman, Bry Dague, Jenna Harris, Ben Satterfield, Shawn Carriker, Ethan Karbassi, Paul Keith, Colin Tattersall, Brian Sim, Hao Dang, Jeff Murphy, Andrew Nguyen, Cameron Richards, Stephen Ruzycky, and Ezra Aurian-Blajeni. (May 2014)