Fizz-fueled rocket soars to big win

November 16, 2017
U students (l to r) Brody Hultman, Machlen Polfliet, Kevin Schrader, Jeffrey Guevara, and Andrew Van Gerpen hold a certificate and oversized check. Next to Van Gerpen is astronaut Mae Jemison.

With certificate and oversized check (l to r): Brody Hultman, Machlen Polfliet, Kevin Schrader, Jeffrey Guevara, Andrew Van Gerpen. Next right: astronaut Mae Jemison.

A U of M team of student rocket builders has won the Bayer-Big Ten Alka-Rocket Challenge, a contest that sharpens the skills of young engineers and celebrates science literacy.

The students, from the College of Science and Engineering, won $25,000, an entry in the Guinness book of world records, and a halftime introduction at the Big Ten football championship game in December. Their rocket soared 430 feet, propelled by the expulsion of carbon dioxide generated when the mild acid and baking soda in effervescent tablets hit water and reacted.

“My fellow [contest] judges and I were very impressed with the modeling, testing, and ingenuity the college finalists teams demonstrated in the design and launching of their Alka-Rockets,” says astronaut and engineer Mae Jemison. “We will certainly be looking to them to build the next advances in science and engineering in the years to come.”

“The design was key to victory,” says team leader Kevin Schrader. “By moving the Alka/water reaction outside of the rocket, we minimized the rocket’s weight while maximizing the potential pressure, as the rocket no longer had to withstand large internal pressures.” 

The other students on the team were Brody Hultman, Machlen Polfliet, Jeffrey Guevara, and Andrew Van Gerpen.