AIChE-Competition300x200Two teams of undergraduate students from the University of Utah’s Department of Chemical Engineering dominated the first ever AIChE K–12 STEM Outreach Competition. The teams, advised by associate professor (lecturer) Tony Butterfield, took first and second place with teaching modules on how thermoelectric energy works and how to build working air quality sensors with plastic toy blocks.

“We have spent about a decade putting together an exemplary outreach program here in the department,” Butterfield said. “It was a really rewarding experience to have our students go there and not only compete and win but to be able to interface with leaders in chemical engineering industry.”

The competition was held Nov. 12 at the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE) Annual Meeting and Student Conference in Orlando and was designed to “showcase interactive experiments that demonstrate the wonders of chemical engineering and STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) to K–12 students,” according to the organization.

The first-place team comprised of students Katrina Le, Matt Dailey and Shaylee Larson presented a teaching module based on building working portable air quality sensors with toy building blocks similar to LEGOs. The module already is being taught in high school classrooms all over Salt Lake County.

AIChE-Competition-2-300x200The second-place team of Andy Simonson, Emily Mei, and Marcus D’Ambrosio presented a module explaining thermoelectric power, or how electricity is generated through a transfer of temperature. They created an experiment in which one end of a “Peltier device” is in a tub of ice. When a student holds the other end, the body heat transfers along the device, creating electricity that powers a light bulb.

Teams from 16 universities around the country competed in the event, and the U was the only institution to have two teams invited, Butterfield said. Both teams received a plaque, and the first-place team also won $500.