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High School Bridge Project

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Dear Group:

I wanted to share with everyone a project of mine that has just finished
it's 6th year here in Gillette, Wyoming.  It is a BALSA WOOD BRIDGE BUILDING
CONTEST.

This project is sponsored by the Powder Basin Chapter of the Wyoming Society
of Professional Engineers (PBC-WSPE) and we as an organization use the
project to promote the profession of engineering.  While bridges fall into
the civil/structural field of engineering, we specify in the rules that they
must utilize a truss bridge.  We believe that trusses are something that
every engineer is exposed to, at least, in their schooling of the general
engineering sciences.

Here at the Campbell County High School in Gillette, Wyoming, every student
taking high school physics (which are either Jr.'s or Sr.'s) builds a bridge
to compete in the school wide competition.  Rules and Regulations have been
set forth by both the teachers as well as the organizing engineers of the
project to make them clear and usable.  Every student has to build their
bridge and all bridges are tested to catastrophic failure.  Our specified
materials for the project are Balsa Wood and Elmer's Wood Glue.

Load is always an issue in the beginning, but we narrowed it down to two
different weight specifications.  First, in order to get an A for the class
and qualify for awards through the project, the bridge has to hold 50 lbs.
Sounds low???  Well, you'd be surprised how many bridges fail well before
this.  The maximum specified load is 200 lbs.  If a bridge holds more than
200 lbs, it only gets credit for the max 200 when it comes time for scoring.
All bridges are scored based on "Efficiency," which we calculate by dividing
the "weight held by the bridge" by the "weight of the bridge."  Seeing as
how the bridges are very light in comparison the weight held, efficiencies
average at around 750.

PBC-WSPE, as part of their sponsorship, offers awards for several things.
First, we give prizes to the top 3 finishers.  These prizes in the past have
been an attaché shoulder bag, a personal electronic organizer, a personal
desk organizer book, among other things.  We also give out award
certificates to the Top 10 finishers which tells the name, bridge weight,
weight held, efficiency, and place in that year's competition.  We also
award bridges that reach 1,000 Points of Efficiency, which we fondly refer
to as "The 1,000 Point Club."  It seems that between 10% and 15% of the
students each year make bridges that both get an A and have an efficiency
rating of over 1,000.  We feel these are good bridge, worthy of noting, and
came up with another certificate for it.  It basically awards the hard work
that the student put into the project, but was beaten out of the Top 10.
Again, only 10% to 15% of the students get one of these awards.  Finally, we
have a "Top Gun Trophy."  This trophy is a plaque that hangs in the school's
showcase right by the physics rooms and lists the winner of the project each
year.  It also have a shelf on it where the remains of the winning bridge
are displayed for a year.  Previous winner's bridges remain on display as
well throughout the case.

Along with the prized the chapter has further involvement from the
beginning.  The chapter sends a representative (which is usually me) to the
high school classes to introduce the project and go over some of the finer
points of the project and clarify any questions.  We also offer a design and
analysis class for the students.  We do a bare bones overview of Statics and
how it pertains to their project of analyzing a bridge.  We then analyze the
bridge by method of joints.  And then apply either compression or tension
design principals in designing the bridge.  Finally, we go over general
construction practices to help the students in coming up with a quality
product.  All classroom operations are "free" to the students and I run it
as an open forum, which normally gets students feeling more comfortable with
the material and it's understanding.  Finally, I offer my own personal
expertise on the project, however, I tell the kids, "my time costs money."
After explaining to them my company's consulting fees, I tell them that
their consulting fee is a small bag of Milk Chocolate M&M's that can be
bought at the Kwiki-Mart for $0.69.  No M&M's, no help, and I have sent
students away because they didn't have their payments.  I don't answer
questions on the phone, unless it is a really easy questions (often times,
sketches are necessary).

There are some schools that already do this project, but I would like to get
many more.  That is why I am sharing this information with everyone.  I hope
to get this project really going all over the nation.  I have been promoting
the project here in our state at their annual convention now for a couple of
years.  I get a lot of interest, but nobody wants to put for the effort it
takes to get the project up and running (which if you get a group of people
together, it really doesn't take all that much).  So, I hope that I have
turned a couple of you on to this project.  If you have any questions, feel
free to ask.  Thanks for your attention.

David Maynard, PE
Gillette, Wyoming
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