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Record 36 entries compete in edible car contest

Student-created cars crafted from food are registered and ready to race at Illinois Valley Community College's annual edible car contest.
Student-created cars crafted from food are registered and ready to race at Illinois Valley Community College's annual edible car contest.

An all-time record 36 cars competed in Illinois Valley Community College's recent edible car contest, with 18 cars created by students from five local high schools.

IVCC teams dominated the speed run with computer-aided design (CAD) students Ben Ross' and Lewis Habben's "Toasted Two" taking first and Michelle Lakan's, Alyssa White's and Jordan Timm's "Marchmallow J.A.M." taking second. CAD students Mike Straith and Matt Kamin tied for third with fellow CAD student Todd Morgan, according to a news release from the college.

While the speed run was the highlight of the 13th annual competition, entries were judged in a number of categories. Morgan's car was awarded first for design, Straith and Kamin claimed first for detail and another CAD entry by Nicholas Nicer received first in creativity.

St. Bede Academy's Max Manning and Ben Morrow took first in the "Meaty" category, and John Potthof and Seth Ludford took first in "Delicious."

Courtney Kobold, from Spring Valley's Hall High School, claimed first in the "Veggie" category, and Nate Draper took first in "Wheel-Man."

Lakan, White and Timm received first place in the "Zombie" category, and the "Faculty" category was won by the nine-person team "Financial Aid Flyers," with Kim Herout, Ida Brown, Lorri Foockle, Amy Woods, Neil Jagodzinski, Alyssa McCauley, Selena Campos, Isamar Taylor and Patty Williamson.

The contest, which celebrates National Engineering Week, has been hosted by the Workforce Development Division since 2006 and was originally sponsored by the National Science Foundation.

"Our purpose is to demonstrate that STEM, or science, technology, engineering and math, can be creative and fun," said Dorene Data, organizer and coordinator of the college's CAD department, in a news release. 

According to participants, the contest succeeded. Many said the highlight was working in teams to come up with a creative and workable design and, in some cases, re-design, or "finding new ways to improve the design," as one student said.
Eating food that didn't work for the cars was a plus for many participants, while one student said the most difficult part of the process was "leaving some of the food for the car," according to the news release.
Major racing design challenges, similar to past years, were "axles that do not break" and "getting the wheels to roll," according to two students.
Among the lessons learned: not only that wheels need to roll but axle assemblies need to keep the body of a vehicle off of the track. A few entries refused to roll, needed a nudge to start or slid instead of rolling down the three-foot ramp.
Technically speaking
While the cars may have been low tech, the track mechanism was high tech.
For the last several years, IVCC students, working under the guidance of electronics program coordinator Jim Gibson, have created, designed and built a track using a pneumatic rotary actuator hooked to a kitchen spatula used as a starting gate. That device, and the photo reflective eyes used for timing the speed, are controlled by a programmable logic controller (PLC).
Teams start the race by depressing a push button programmed to lift the starting gate, which is a spatula. Speed is calculated by the PLC and displayed utilizing HMI software with results projected on a monitor as actual time and as "mouthfuls per hour."
Gibson said hardware for this setup stays basically the same each year, but the software changes. This year, his students added troubleshooting assistance and alarms to the HMI system. 
"The system would notify us if the photo eyes were covered, maybe with cheese or icing from the vehicles," Gibson said in a news release.
While the alarm did not go off, occasional track cleanup was required, as well as plastic sheeting to protect surfaces around the track.
Gibson, who has taken the PLC-controlled track off campus for contests, said he is willing to bring the setup to schools or organizations.
Judges included IVCC computing and audio visual specialist James Niessner and former instructor Carrie Gonzalez.
Host an edible car contest
Edible car contest organizers have written a "how to" handbook and given workshops at a number of national conferences to encourage and assist teachers to conduct contests as a fun way to provide hands-on experience for classroom content. For information and a copy of the handbook, visit

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