UMN students win 2019 Bayer Alka-Rocket® Challenge

Students win $25,000 grand prize

MINNEAPOLIS / ST. PAUL (12/13/2019)—A student team from the University of Minnesota College of Science and Engineering rocketed their way to victory and a $25,000 prize in the annual Bayer Alka-Rocket Challenge at Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex.

A panel of judges, along with a GUINNESS WORLD RECORDS™ Adjudicator, affirmed the University of Minnesota team launched an Alka-Seltzer powered rocket they designed to an altitude of 535 feet – a height that, along with a safe recovery, earned them the top score in the competition and the cash prize. The Golden Gophers, however, did not break the GUINNESS WORLD RECORDS title earned at last year's Challenge with an 883-foot launch by a rocket team from Brigham Young University (BYU).

"We built off our mistakes in previous years to make this year's rocket lighter, stronger, and more reliable," said Machlen Polfliet, a junior majoring in aerospace engineering and mechanics and leader of the University of Minnesota Alka-Rocket Challenge team. "We were definitely pleased when our rocket won."

Created by Bayer, the competition challenges college teams to design and launch an Alka-Rocket in order to achieve the greatest height possible before initiating a controlled and safe descent. Alka-Rockets are model rockets often built using a 35mm film canister propelled by the chemical reaction that occurs when effervescent tablets are mixed with water. 

The University of Minnesota team competed against four other finalist teams from BYU, California Polytechnic University, Schoolcraft College (Michigan), and the University of Georgia.

"As in years past, this annual competition has been a blast – for these students, myself and my fellow judges, and everyone else involved," said Dr. Mae Jemison, former NASA astronaut and the first woman of color in space. "The creativity, engineering prowess, execution and commitment of each team to develop their Alka-Rockets is an inspiring demonstration of how STEM education is alive and well across the country."

"We're certain that each of these students will make their mark in science, engineering or innovation – the areas that are extremely critical for our country's success," she added.

In addition to Jemison, judges of the Challenge were Karin Ann Payne, Vice President of Quality for Bayer, as well as NASA representatives Omaid Sharifi and Max Ludden.

Bayer created the Challenge to generate awareness about the country's need for more scientists, engineers and innovators. For more than 20 years, Bayer has had a longstanding commitment to science literacy and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) education.

"This competition is a fun way to spotlight the very serious STEM challenges that our country and our world face today," said Raymond F. Kerins Jr., Senior Vice President of Corporate Affairs for Bayer. "Bayer is proud to sponsor this annual event that helps to shine a light on our country's next generation of STEM leaders – who today used Alka-Seltzer effervescent tablets and water, but tomorrow will be pushing the envelope of science, technology, engineering and mathematics."

"We congratulate all the finalists who participated and the University of Minnesota for their victory," he added.

Alka-Rockets are often used in American science classes to demonstrate principles of chemistry and physics. For more than a quarter century, Alka-Rockets have been a staple experiment in Bayer's award-winning science literacy initiative in the United States.

If you’d like to support students in the University of Minnesota College of Science and Engineering, visit our CSE Giving website.