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News Release

Chemical Engineering Students Share Their Passion at UC San Diego Founders' Day

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A student checks out a bowl of non-Newtonian liquid  handed to her by Giselle Banag at the Jacobs School booth during Founders' Day, which was manned by volunteers from the UC San Diego chapter of AIChE.

San Diego, Calif., Nov. 15, 2013 -- A small car that runs on chemical reactions, elephant toothpaste and a non-Newtonian fluid—a substance that is both a liquid and a solid. It was all part of the fun at the Jacobs School of Engineering booth at Founders’ Day, Friday, Nov. 15.

This year, organizers turned the booth over to the UC San Diego chapter of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers. The organization packed the booth with demos and showcased its ChemE Car.

“We’re so excited to show our chemistry skills,” said Kristi Chu, a third-year chemical engineering major.

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Amy Chung and Melisa Phuong Nguyen make another batch of non-Newtonian fluid.

Chu is part of the organization’s ChemE Car team. The cube-like vehicle has to run—and stop—with a chemical reaction. This year’s model runs on biodiesel, a homemade mix of vegetable oil, lye and methanol. Students are still working on the chemical reaction that will be used as brakes. Last year, they used elephant toothpaste, which blocked a photo sensor as it expanded. That reaction combines hydrogen peroxide and liquid soap, which interact with yeast and expand in an eruption of foam. Visitors at the Jacobs School booth could try their hand at making their own elephant toothpaste. They could also play with a mix of corn starch and water to make a non-Newtonian fluid, which many children might better know as Oobleck from Dr. Seuss’ books.

Chu and fellow AIChE members are gearing up for the ChemE Car competition that will take place at UC Davis on April 19 next year. The event brings together teams of students from across the nation to race their cars. Last year, the UC San Diego team took eighth place in the race and third place in the poster competition.

“It’s not about complicated engineering stuff,” Chu said. “It’s about using what we know.”

She was manning the booth with several students, including sophomore Amy Chung, who helped set up the logistics of the event. “I love the Jacobs School of Engineering,” she said. “I love the sense of community.” Student organizations support one another, she added.

From noon to 2:30 p.m., many students, staff members and faculty stopped by the Jacobs School booth, including third-year chemical engineering student Miranda Federico and Oscar Nieto, a senior in structural engineering with a focus on aerospace engineering.

Outside the classroom, Federico stays busy with pep band and Society of Women Engineers activities.

Nieto spent last summer doing research at the University of Washington. These days, in addition to his classes, he is a calculus teacher and tutor for other UC San Diego students through OASIS, an academic support program on campus.. “Once you understand it, calculus is like adding,” Nieto said. He plans to become an engineering professor.

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Two students react when trying out a substance that is both a solid and a liquid, called a non-Newtonian liquid.


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Oscar Nieto, a senior in structural engineering, checks out the ChemE Car.
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Fun with elephant toothpaste at the Jacobs School's Founders' Day booth. From left: chenical engineering majors Amy Chung, Melisa Phong Nguyen and Kristi Chu.
Media Contacts

Ioana Patringenaru
Jacobs School of Engineering