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    Students show off their engineering skills at Navy Bridge Building Challenge

    Students show off their engineering skills at Navy Bridge Building Challenge

    Photo By Frank Kaminski | Participants in this year’s Navy Bridge Building Challenge test a bridge by loading...... read more read more



    Story by Frank Kaminski 

    Naval Undersea Warfare Center Division Keyport

    Students from 15 schools across Key, Kitsap and Olympic peninsulas recently had a chance to show off their engineering skills by participating in the 2023 Navy Bridge Building Challenge, which culminated with live-load testing at the U.S. Naval Undersea Museum on May 6.

    The annual competition challenges K-12th grade students to research, design and construct lightweight, one-of-a-kind bridges capable of holding as much weight as possible. At the live-load testing event, students, teachers and volunteers from Naval Undersea Warfare Center Division, Keyport, the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard & Intermediate Maintenance Facility and the Naval Facilities Engineering Systems Command tested 266 bridges by loading them with weight until they failed.

    Various methods were used to load the bridges, from piling them with rolls of pennies (for smaller paper bridges) or gym plates (for sturdier wood bridges), to stressing them with strain gauges in lieu of physical weights.

    This year’s event was jointly hosted by NUWC Keyport, PSNS & IMF, the U.S. Naval Undersea Museum and the Puget Sound Navy Museum. It was the first time the competition has been conducted in person since the COVID-19 pandemic. It was also the first time it’s been held at the Naval Undersea Museum, previous years’ competitions having been held at the Kitsap Mall in nearby Silverdale, Wash.

    Sam De Lano, Outreach Coordinator for NUWC Keyport’s Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics program, said the goal of the competition is to provide students an engaging engineering challenge with real-world applications.

    “Not only do they have to consider architectural design, but there's a lot of mathematics that go into designing a bridge that can support the most weight,” said De Lano. “They also have to operate under real engineering design constraints and with limited materials.”

    The design requirements and available materials varied by students’ age levels. Students in the elementary category (which included kindergarten through grade five) were limited to paper drinking straws (up to 20), index cards (up to five) and scotch tape (unlimited quantities), and their bridges had to span a gap of at least 30 centimeters, or nearly a foot.

    Middle and high school students were required to use popsicle sticks and school glue, and they faced more challenging design requirements than their elementary-age peers—such as the requirement that high schoolers’ bridges span a gap of at least one meter.

    The challenge first rolled out in January, giving students several months to research and prepare their projects. Most bridges were collected from schools prior to the testing date, though students were welcome to bring their bridges in person on the day of the event and test them themselves.

    Katherine Haessler, a planner for NAVFAC who was among the volunteers at the event, said she believes events like this benefit young STEM students in several ways, beginning with networking and positive role modeling.

    “It pairs [students] with people in the community that might be engineers or have advanced degrees that then can help connect them to resources to further their growth and development,” said Haessler. “They can see what engineers look like in the community and think, Okay, I could do that."

    Haessler added that she sees great value in the practical learning experience students gain by participating annually. "Year after year, when they do this, it's an iterative process,” she said. “So not only are they learning from the year before, but they're taking those lessons and hopefully integrating them into the next bridge they make."

    Also at the event was North Kitsap High School engineering teacher Eric Nieland, who came to see his students’ bridges be tested. Nieland said he was proud of how well his students had taken to the engineering theory and math involved in constructing structurally sound bridges, as well as the teamwork they had shown.

    “Nobody does this kind of structural engineering by themselves,” said Nieland. “It's teamwork. It's working with other groups and trying to get things to come together. The soft skills of teamwork are as important as the hard skills.”

    Noting the strain some of the bridges were placing on the devices used to test them, Nieland added, “We're testing the test rig pretty much more than we're testing the bridges at this point. So it's good to see that they're all very successful."

    Dianna Palermo of PSNS & IMF said some of the more creative bridge designs she saw this year came from elementary school students. Palermo, who works closely with elementary-age children in her role as STEM Coordinator, attributes this to younger kids being more open to ideas than their older counterparts, she said.

    Prior to this year, all bridges were tested using gym plates, a practice that was retired for safety reasons, said Nieland.

    Nieland added that one year, a group of his students built a bridge capable of holding more than 1,000 pounds in the form of stacked gym plates. No one knows how much more, because that’s the point at which the testers stopped piling on the plates in order to ensure everyone remained safe, he said.

    This year’s bridges weren’t able to support that same kind of weight because the strain gauges used to test most of them provide smaller surface areas and concentrate their loads over shorter spans than do gym plates, said De Lano.

    This year’s winning bridge in the elementary school category held 2,900 pennies, while the winning middle and high school bridges held 751 pounds and 244 pounds, respectively.


    About Naval Undersea Warfare Center Division Keyport
    NUWC Keyport provides advanced technical capabilities for test and evaluation, in-service engineering, maintenance and industrial base support, fleet material readiness, and obsolescence management for undersea warfare to expand America’s undersea dominance.



    Date Taken: 05.10.2023
    Date Posted: 05.10.2023 11:54
    Story ID: 444443

    Web Views: 351
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