Tiny strips of wood, x-acto knives, glue-covered fingers and stressful problem solving all combined to create this year’s 16th annual Summit County Engineer’s Miniature Bridge Building Competition.
Twenty-one schools in Summit county were able to enter the three-hour competition on Fri., Feb. 26 at the University of Akron. As long as the school could offer two or three students, they could participate. Some schools were even able to send more than one team.
The participating high schools were Akron Early College, Coventry, Cuyahoga Falls, Firestone, Four Cities Educational Compact, Garfield, Green, Hudson, Manchester, Mogadore, Norton, Portage Lakes Career Center, Revere High School, Six District Engineering Academy, Springfield, STEM High School, Stow-Munroe Falls, St. Vincent St. Mary, Tallmadge, Twinsburg High School and Western Reserve Academy.
I personally came with the Six District Engineering Academy, which is my career program. My teammates were Stow senior Stephen Morris and Cuyahoga Falls senior Alex Perdue. We competed alongside of some of our engineering classmates who were registered under their home schools.
Engineering firms such as CT Consultants, Environmental Design Group, Euthenics, Osborn Engineering and many more posed as sponsors for the event. These companies are the creators for many of the bridges in northeast Ohio.
The civil engineering companies also generously donated towards a scholarship for students who attend the competition. Participants then have to fill out a form and write an essay in order to be considered for the scholarship. Values change from year to year, and the amount has not been decided yet.
Before considering any scholarship, we had to build our bridge. We were provided a limited amount of balsa wood which we had to use as the basis of our bridge. The flimsy material is challenging to construct with and is very easy to break. We used super glue in order to hold everything together.
Our team laid out our design on a rectangular block of styrofoam, placed wax paper over the top and used the layers as a work space. We also used straight pins to keep the bridge trusses in place as they dried.
Three hours passed fairly quickly, as each team ran into various problems or smoothly created their projects; a frequent but not devastating issue was the recurring situation of fingers being glued to the bridge.
My team and I built our bridge with ease. Last year, as amateurs, we used too much glue and did not know how to properly construct anything in the time frame; we did not finish our design and the final product was messier than intended. This year, we finished with 15 minutes to spare, with every piece perfectly in place.
Once each team finished and placed their masterpieces on one lengthy table, the judges checked each for specifications. They verified that each bridge was at least 14 inches long and had a minimum of 12 inches for the bottom trusses. Additionally, the structure could not have more than two strips of balsa wood laminated together.
Judges also picked out the most aesthetically pleasing design for an award.
One of the winners of the aesthetics made a miniature version of the Football Hall of Fame bridge in Canton.
Although my team did not win any athsetic awards, we tried for the abilities portion.
Each bridge had a hole drilled through the middle of the roadbed which then had a J-hook through the opening. A bucket with a 10 pound weight was then placed on the hook.
One team member was then expected to lightly put cup-fulls of nuts and bolts in the bottom of the bucket to increasingly add more weight. Once the bridge busted, the team measured the bucket to see how much mass broke the bridge.
After the structure failed, teams could visit a table of experienced civil engineers who could explain where and why the bridge failed.
They told me and my teammates that our design was very strong and smart, but the distribution of the load on our bottom trusses was not strong enough. More triangles, the sturdiest shape in a structure, could have helped our design.
The awarded points depended on the ratio between the mass of the bridge and the failure mass.
My team’s structure weighed 23.6 grams and held 29.7 pounds. This ratio was not poor but definitely did not come close to the winning team.
First timers, Hudson, won by a landslide with a very light bridge that held probably 4 times the amount ours did: their trusses were well constructed and were very strong.
Each Hudson student won $100. Both Springfield teams won second which was given $70 and third place which received $50 each.
Even though my team did not win any prizes, I still had a positive experience. I was able to compete alongside my friends and put all of my abilities to the test.
Times like these are ones I will look back on when I am 30 and in a career practicing the same teamwork and problem solving skills needed in a simple, friendly competition as a student.