Portland, Ore. - Three U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Portland District employees shared their expertise with some potential future engineers from a Beaverton elementary school. The fourth graders, who call their team the Dragon Ninjas, asked the Corps engineers to take a look at their bridge design idea for the Intel Oregon FIRST LEGO League Championships in January.
The Dragon Ninjas presented their challenge and solution to Matthew Hanson, Jordan Reimer and Ben Stolt, structural engineers from the District’s Engineering and Construction Division.
The challenge: students and faculty need a second evacuation route from school grounds, but the only option is through a marsh behind the school into an adjacent neighborhood.
The solution: a bridge to get everyone over the marsh away from the school.
“But the neighbors may not like it,” said Rishabh Sharma, Dragon Ninja team member. “That’s why we came up with the solution of a temporary roll-out bridge.”
The students determined that a temporary bridge meant the school’s neighbors wouldn’t have to worry about construction and that it would only be used in an emergency.
That idea sparked the interest of the engineers and for over an hour they and the Ninjas brainstormed ways to make the bridge stronger and safer, yet still simple enough to deploy quickly.
The FLL competition challenges kids ages 9 to 14 years to work together to solve a problem. For this competition participants were told to find a solution to a problem related to a natural disaster.
“The kids chose earthquakes,” said Ravi Sharma, a Dragon Ninja parent-coach. “They met with the principal to learn how they could prepare their school to respond in the event of an earthquake.”
“Their concept is extremely unique,” said Stolt. “It is relevant and I can see it having uses even beyond a seismic structural application.”
The students’ parents looked on as the engineers used simple models to demonstrate the effectiveness of different designs and materials.
“It’s always useful to have experts give them advice,” said Sharma. “Parents can only guide them so much, and having firsthand knowledge from the engineers who really do this is extremely useful.”
”We did learn a lot and now we’re going to improve our solution,” said Arushi Mantri, Dragon Ninja team member. “We realized it wouldn’t stay up unless there’s a load on both sides of it; and we need some sort of truss. We’re going to build a model and think more about it.”
Sharma said after the meeting the kids went back to their design to figure out how to use what they learned from the engineers. He said they modified their design somewhat to incorporate a way to secure and support the bridge as it rolls out over the marsh, making it safe for people to move across.
“We don’t know if it will work,” said Sharma. “But at least they’re thinking in the right direction.”
The Corps’ engineers said they enjoyed meeting the Dragon Ninjas and hearing their ideas. Stolt, who participated in similar competitions when he was in high school, said he saw this meeting as an opportunity to encourage youngsters to continue pursuing engineering knowledge.
“We need more engineers,” said Stolt. “And this shows them that something they consider fun, these Lego competitions, is something you can keep doing. Your job can be something you enjoy and at the same time provide a valuable service to your community.”
The Dragon Ninjas presented their bridge design Jan. 18 at the FIRST LEGO League Championships. Sharma says the judges were impressed with the project, and gave favorable comments on the team’s innovation, project practicality and for seeking out resources and consulting experts.
“I think the kids clearly benefited from the interaction with the Army Corps of Engineers,” said Sharma. “They’ve started thinking about how to use this new knowledge about bridges. I think the kids really appreciated it and so do all of us parents.”