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Gastronomic gasoline: Students compete with cars of food

Extreme Edible Car Competition pushes students to create mini vehicles from victuals

Most students see apples, pretzels and squash as typical items on Sharpe Refectory menus, but others see them as parts of cars.

The Extreme Edible Car Competition challenged students this weekend to use gastronomy as autobody as they built miniature cars out of vegetables, fruit and candy, among other foods.

A group of about 25 students gathered in Barus and Holley Friday for the fourth annual competition, hosted by Brown’s Society of Women Engineers.

To kickstart the contest, six teams of food engineers were given an hour to design and build their cars. While the competitors could bring their own cutting and carving utensils, they could only build with food the hosts of the competition provided — which included eggplant, rice cakes and licorice.

SWE held the competition to allow participants the chance to “learn more about engineering in a fun way,” said Lucy Duan ’16, an organizer of the event. In general, the organization aims to promote gender diversity in engineering, she added.

The cars were evaluated on three qualities:  appearance,  distance traveled and speed. All teams’ cars followed the same general skeleton of an automobile body — four round wheels and two cylindrical axles. But the food that made up the car parts differed widely, with some teams constructing wheels from orange slices and others using sliced potatoes.

Each team developed its own strategy to impress the faculty judges — Dean of the School of Engineering Lawrence Larson and Professor of Engineering Allan Bower. The “Hotbodies” played up the aesthetic appeal of their vehicle, using a banana for the body and placing a top hat on it for flair. Their primary goal was to keep the design simple, said team member Angela Straccia ’14.

After the hour of building expired, the cars hit the track: a ramp outside Barus and Holley leading to the brick walkway outside the building. Each team had one shot to impress the audience with the functional prowess of its machine.

One after the next, the tasty vehicles raced down the ramp, some of them falling apart in the process and others burning out and stopping before they hit the end.

The ‘Kumquats’ proved to be the superior edible car engineers, flaunting a car with rice cake wheels and a cucumber body. The team had arrived twenty minutes late to the competition and feverishly rushed to throw its vehicle together. The team’s car ultimately reached such a great speed as it rolled down the ramp that its wheels fell off. Nonetheless, it traveled a greater distance than any other car, earning the team the win.

For their makeshift but successful performance, they earned a $20 gift card to Antonio’s Pizza. Team member Adam Gottesman ’16 described their triumph as a “Cinderella story.”

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