Over 30 area high school juniors and seniors including two seniors from Sikeston Senior High School, Greg Bates and Daniel Klimmek, are participating in the Missouri Department of Transportation's first bridge building competition by presenting models made of balsa wood. Each bridge will be tested Saturday to see how great of a load it can carry before breaking.
"This is something we just developed late last fall and set up for this spring," said Jason Williams, transportation project designer at MoDOT's district office in Sikeston. "Students will design and construct a model bridge. In doing so, they'll have to develop the most efficient bridge design to carry the greatest load. It's a simplified process that will show them some of the considerations that engineers must make when designing a bridge."
Each participating student was given 20 pieces of balsa wood, a bottle of glue and a spool of thread to create a bridge. While each entry must meet certain size specifications, the design itself is entirely up to the student.
"We're very impressed with the creativity of the designs," Williams said. "We're going to have in the neighborhood of 30 to 35 bridges to test this Saturday."
The competition was open to schools in all 14 counties in MoDOT's Southeast District. Williams said this is the only district he knows of hosting this type of contest.
Nine schools and more than 30 students decided to participate. The Ste. Genevieve, Oak Ridge, Jackson, Poplar Bluff, Malden, Delta C-7, Kennett and North Pemiscot high schools are participating in addition to Sikeston High School.
"We really didn't know what to expect because this is the first year for this," Williams said. "We were pleased with the turnout and hope it only grows with the coming years. We anticipate this will be an annual event held each spring."
The model bridges will be tested beginning at 9 a.m. Saturday at MoDOT's Southeast District Office in Sikeston.
"We have a loading device that loads the bridge at midspan," Williams said. "There will be a weight attached to a rod that hangs from midspan."
Testers will gradually increase the weight to test the bridges. "We're going to load the bridges to failure, till they break," Williams said.
An efficiency score will be used to determine the winning design, according to Williams. "The load that the bridge supports will be divided by the weight of the bridge itself and that will give us an efficiency score," he explained. "The lightest, strongest bridge will win the competition."
MoDOT officials figure it will take all afternoon to break all the bridges after which an awards presentations will be held at about 4 p.m.
The contest is sponsored by MoDOT's TRAC team. "The idea of the TRAC program is just to spark an interest in civil engineering and transportation in the area," Williams said, "and inspire them maybe to pursue a career in that."
Each MoDOT district has a TRAC team made up of a group of employees who visit area schools to talk about transportation and civil engineering as well as exposing students to what MoDOT engineers actually do.
"We're anxious and excited about the competition on Saturday and we hope this is piquing some interest in the field of civil engineering and/or transportation," Williams said.
In addition to providing a fresh learning experience, the competition will also benefit future engineers in another way: MoDOT's TRAC team partnered with three universities to offer scholarship opportunities for students in the competition.
The University of Missouri - Rolla and Southern Illinois University at Carbondale are each offering a $1,000 engineering scholarship and Southeast Missouri State University is offering a $300 pre-engineering scholarship.
All participants that enter a bridge and meet the school's minimum qualifications will be eligible for the scholarship, Williams said. The scholarships will not necessarily go to the contest winners, however. "There will be other prizes for the winners," he said.
"The competition itself is a great hands-on experience," said Craig Compas, traffic engineer at the Sikeston MoDOT office, "but the scholarship opportunities for future engineers are outstanding. We couldn't be more thankful to the universities for partnering with us on this project."
For more information contact Williams at 472-5293 or Compas at 472-5310 or call the MoDOT's Customer Service Center toll free at 1-888-275-6636.