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Citadel News Service

March 5, 2003
by Cadet Jeff Wright

Lowcountry Bridge Building Competition held at The Citadel

  Cadet Jeff Wright is the regimental adjutant. A political science major, he is currently an intern in the public affairs office.

        Lowcountry high school and middle school students painstakingly engineered and crafted intricate model bridges using only craft sticks and carpenter’s glue. For many weeks they worked, looking forward to the time when Citadel cadets would destroy their creations.

Cadet John Lester measures a student's bridge during registration.

          Such was the order of the day at the 2003 Lowcountry Bridge Building Competition held at The Citadel February 15th. Students from around the Lowcountry designed their bridges to withstand the maximum weight possible, while keeping a close eye on the weight of the bridge. To test the strength of each bridge, cadets added sand to a device that transferred the weight directly on to the bridge until it collapsed.

         In addition to maximum load, students were judged on strength to weight ratio, lightest bridge, most original design, best craftsmanship, and most realistically constructible.  The most efficient bridges had a strength ratio of more than 1000:1.

  The last moments of a student's bridge. Cadets Moises Gamez (behind the bridge) and John Daly keep a close eye on a bridge that has begun to fail. (Note the broken support on the right side of the bridge.)

          Professional engineers were on hand to talk to the students about the science behind their bridges. Fred Beasley, the construction project manager of a new hotel on Kiawah Island, enthusiastically drew upon his two decades of experience to assist the students. Mason Prep students asked him for advice before building their bridges, and all students utilized his expertise on Saturday, coming to him for advice on how to improve their bridges.

          Even though the students were restricted by a weight limit of 400g per bridge (1.3 pounds), several bridges held weights in excess of 600 pounds. These bridges were taken to LeTellier Hall to the Universal Testing Machine, which produces a maximum pressure of 600,000 pounds.

          Student Kenneth Ravenell from Timberland High School won the award for maximum weight held. His craft stick bridge held 365,000g (805 pounds) of weight, with a ratio of 1035:1. Kenneth also won second place in both of the divisions with his second bridge, and his combined successes yielded more trophies than the 15-year-old student could carry by himself.

"We want the students to come
away from this competition
excited about the field."

          Col. Dennis Fallon, dean of the School of Engineering and former head of the Department of Civil Engineering, said that the event was a good way to cultivate student interest in engineering. “There are many capable people being turned off [from engineering] by a lack of publicity,” Fallon said. “We want the students to come away from this competition excited about the field.”

          Student excitement was apparent, even as they departed campus, talking about improvements to make for next year’s competition.


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