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Last updated: Sun. Feb. 24, 2013 - 12:30 am EDT

Under pressure: Bridges tested for strength

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22nd Annual Engineers Week High School Bridge Building Contest

First place: Mason Call, Adams Central High School; 0.64-pound bridge held 814.5 pounds; total score 7,473

Second place: Adam Heibel, Lakewood Park Christian School; 0.78-pound bridge held 1,227 pounds; total score 6,549

Third place: Tanner Henvey, home school; 0.74-pound bridge held 555.6 pounds; total score 6,305


The noise rang out across the lobby of IPFW’s engineering school, met with groans from the students whose handmade bridge had just been crushed by a device used to measure how much weight the structure could hold.

The bridge cracked down the center, dividing it into two pieces and ending the day of competition for the student designers.

Saturday’s 22nd Annual Engineers Week High School Bridge Building Contest brought together 65 student bridge builders, some returning for another chance at the top spot and others trying out the competition for the first time.

The contest, open to area high school students, tests students’ skills in engineering, design, science and creativity and is hosted by IPFW’s College of Engineering, Technology and Computer Science.

Students were allowed to use a maximum of 200 wooden Popsicle sticks adhered with Elmer’s yellow wood glue to create their bridges, aiming to produce the lightest bridge that could span 24 inches and hold the maximum load with minimum deflection, or bend.

Once the bridge bent more than three inches from the horizontal position, the load broke through the deck of the bridge or the structure fell apart, judges moved on to the next competitor’s design.

A ratio of the total weight the bridge could hold was divided by the amount of deflection and then divided by the weight of the bridge to determine the final score.

Adam Heibel, a Lakewood Park Christian School senior, said creating the bridges for Saturday’s competition took several days – mostly because each section of glue took about three hours to dry.

“By the time I was all done, it took about 20 gluing sessions,” Heibel said.

But before he started gluing, Heibel said he spent several days sketching out his design and measuring the angles and lengths of each Popsicle stick.

“It’s a long process,” he said, explaining how each year many students return to compete not only to test their own bridges but to watch as the designs of their competitors improved or collapsed.

For most the three-hour testing period, Heibel held the first-place spot with a total score of 6,549. His bridge, a design he worked to perfect from last year’s competition, weighed 0.78 pound and held a load of 1,227 pounds.

But as the competition was wrapping up, Mason Call took the stage last with his inverted bridge design.

Call, a junior at Adams Central High School, was last year’s winner and returned to the competition this year with a similar bridge design but a better idea of what to expect.

“There have been a lot of good ones this year, and they seem to get a little better every year,” Call said, eyeing his competition before taking his bridge to be tested. “It’s all about the principles of engineering and learning about what works.”

About 60 spectators watched as Call’s 0.64-pound bridge was tested and his score continued to climb.

Call grinned as his score reached a high of 7,473, topping out Saturday’s competition by nearly 1,000 points. His bridge held a total load weight of 814.5 pounds.

“Not bad for a bridge made of Popsicle sticks,” the judge said.

After the competition, Call collected his winnings – a $250 prize for himself and $50 for his teacher and mentor at Adams Central.

Heibel took second place, snatching up a $200 prize, and Tanner Henvey, a home-school student, won the $100 third-place prize.

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