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  • Adrian DiMarco ('26)

Why you should go to a conference and AIChE Student Conference Highlights

Do you want to get more involved with your major? Do you want to form stronger connections with your peers more so than simply sharing classes? If your answer is yes to either of these questions, then you are in luck. While it is no secret that professional societies are incredibly helpful to undergraduate students looking to network and make friends within their field of study, they also offer access to professional engineering conferences.

Virginia Tech AIChE Chapter
Virginia Tech AIChE Chapter

Why is this important? Because conferences typically have a wide variety of recruiters for both large companies and graduate schools. Not to mention, many also have student competitions that are a great way to hone your skills and meet like-minded, motivated students along the way. I was fortunate enough to attend this year’s Annual American Institute of Chemical Engineering (AIChE) Student Conference, so here are some of the highlights.

AIChE Hokie Highlights

Thirty undergraduate students attended and represented our school. This cohort was made up of two ChemE design teams — ChemE Car and ChemE Cube — several undergraduate researchers, and a handful of upperclassmen.

Many of the school’s researchers that were present had a large presence on the winner’s podium. Kaleb Chan won 3rd place in "Food, Pharmaceutical, and Biotechnology", Eamon Bartlett won 3rd place in "Catalysis and Reaction Engineering", Melanie Lindblom won 2nd place in "Fuels, Petrochemicals, and Energy", and Brandon Tapia won 1st place in "Separations". The other research poster competitors were Ryan Mann, Gracie Jones, and Emma Troiano. 

The ChemE Car team also had a spectacular performance as they placed 7th out of 46 international teams. The goal of the competition is to build a small car powered by a chemical reaction of the team’s choosing. The staff announces a distance the day of the competition, and teams must give the car the precise amounts of reactants to travel that distance. This year marks the competition’s 25th year, so all teams were tasked with tuning their car to run exactly 25 meters. The Virginia Tech ChemE Car team was able to come within a half meter of the target distance!

Last but not least, the ChemE Cube team came in 2nd out of 11 teams in the international finals. The goal of the Cube Competition is to design a chemical plant contained within a cubic foot, and pitch its business case to industry investors. The twist is that the prompt of what each cube is supposed to do changes every year. This past competition was all about direct air capture. This year’s design, the ‘Grokie’, uses algae and a material that removes carbon dioxide out of the air known as zeolite.

All of the seniors in attendance who were interested in graduate school had the opportunity to speak with professors from various institutions. This helped them learn about research they could get involved with if they chose to pursue those schools. A handful of students were also informally offered research internships during the design team competition! In summary, conferences are chock-full of opportunities for undergraduate students of all disciplines.

Before the Duel
Before the Duel

How to go to a Student Conference

So how exactly do you go to one of these conferences, and can you afford it? Thankfully, there are many ways to attend conferences, and just about all of them are funded by Virginia Tech. Many members of design teams attend conferences, but usually the team can only afford to send a few members at a time.

ChemE Cube Technical Duel Competition
ChemE Cube Technical Duel Competition

The easiest way to go would likely be through research. If you work with a lab group and have a poster with your name on it, you might be able to submit it to the conference and attend to present your research. 

During the Duel
During the Duel

There also might be different groups that attend conferences that are specific to your major, so the best thing to do is to talk with upperclassmen or officers in professional societies you are a part of. Also, conferences often have discounts for students who want to attend even without an organization. 

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