YOUNGSTOWN - Nick Mowchan convinced his teammates that they should use two crackers for each wheel - if they wanted their car to move more smoothly down the ramp.
"We realized one cracker wouldn't be strong enough," the 18-year-old said. "We needed more balance."
Mowchan, of Mineral Ridge, was among the Youngstown State University students participating in an exercise designed to help them develop their research, design and building skills as part of an introductory engineering class.
Sixteen teams of students were challenged to design "edible cars" that they assembled and tested on Thursday in the auditorium of YSU's Moser Hall.
The small vehicles, many of which could fit into the palm of their creators' hands, were made out of food such as cookies, crackers, breath mints or rice cakes.
Lauren Kowal, 18, of Youngstown, said she never imagined she would be making small cars out of food when she made the transition from high school to college.
Tribune Chronicle / Virginia Shank
This edible car — made out of crackers, whole wheat spaghetti, breath mints and marshmallows — was among the more successful vehicles to make it down the ramp without stalling, overturning or crashing.
"It's fun but not what you'd expect in college," she said. "But it's challenging and it's harder than I thought it would be. You really have to think it through, what you need to do to get the car to move the way you want it to. You have to be creative and logical at the same time."
Alec Marsili, 18, of East Palestine, said that he and Kowal had to modify their design.
The teams had 20 minutes to assemble their vehicles. The challenge was to design and assemble a vehicle that would roll, not slide, down a ramp without stalling, overturning or crashing. Students chose their own ingredients.
"Most of it's made out of cereal," Marsili said. "But we used a lot of sugar and water as an adhesive. We thought it would roll, but it kept sliding."
Ashley Frankos, 18, of New Castle, Pa., said the marshmallows her team used were great as an adhesive, but kind of difficult to use.
Nick Tocicki, 18, of Canfield said the exercise taught him that revisions are often part of the design process.
Jakeline Placeres, 18, of Campbell, said she was concerned that the carpet that covered the ramp might cause her team and their vehicle some problems.
Class instructor Kerry Meyers said students were required to take the information they learned in the past six weeks and apply it to the activity. She said the exercise was designed to teach students team-building, brainstorming, researching, problem solving, modeling and prototyping, testing and analyzing.
"And evaluation," she added. "It really is about putting their thoughts into a design, putting their designs into action and analyzing and evaluating the project to see what worked, what didn't and where changes can and need to be made and making those revisions. It's all very practical, really."