Three recent graduates of the University of Utah’s Department of Chemical Engineering tied for first place in this year’s American Institute of Chemical Engineers Student Design Competition, a national student contest to develop the best design of a chemical plant.

Former U undergraduate students Amanda Chew-Stebbins, Samantha Bidlack and Rachel Greene (pictured from left to right) tied with a team from Oklahoma State University, it was announced in October during the AIChE’s annual conference in Minneapolis. There were approximately 40 teams from around the world competing for the top prize.

“I’m incredibly proud because it was a fantastic team of students,” said University of Utah chemical engineering professor Kevin Whitty, who taught the course in which the design was developed. “They worked really hard, and it’s unsurprising to me that they had the best entry.”

For this year’s competition, teams of students had to design a chemical plant that could produce 85 million pounds per year of nylon 6,6, a type of polyamide or nylon. That included designing the plant and conducting an economic analysis, taking into consideration environmental, health and safety related issues. The students also had to consider the methods of most efficiently using the raw material, what types or reactors would be used, and how the material would be refined into its final form. The final design package is over 100 pages and details all aspects of the chemical plant.

“They are given 30 days to do it, so it’s pretty intense,” Whitty said. “And they’re not allowed to get any help from faculty. They have to do it all on their own.”

The project was part of Whitty’s Process Design II undergraduate class, and all of its students had to form into teams and each come up with a design. Then Whitty chose the best project from the 27 created in the class and submitted it to the competition.

It is the first time the University of Utah has won the competition since 2009.

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