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Engineering Students Test Bridges with Smashing Results

A practical project for "Structures"

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Engineering students at ESF didn’t burn their bridges at the end of the semester. Instead they smashed them.

Students enrolled in Forest Engineering 410 (“Structures”) spent the semester working in groups designing and building timber bridges. For weeks, students developed concepts and proposals, decided on materials, worked out budgets, and built the bridges. The project culminated with testing the bridges during the Engineered Timber Bridge Competition Nov. 28. The competition pitted bridge against bridge to see how much weight each could bear before breaking. The students then took the data to write a final report about their bridges.

“The assignment challenges the students’ analytic knowledge and creativity to engineer high-quality timber bridges,” said Dr. Rafaat Morsi Hussein of the Department of Construction Management and Wood Products Engineering.

The competition became a campus event as not only bridge builders, but fellow ESF students, professors and the College provost gathered to witness the crushing moments.

As Bud Kelleher, instructional support specialist, operated the Tinius Olsen machine, which calculates how much weight the bridges can hold, students watched and listened intently for the telltale snap of wood that preceded a bridge reaching its stress point.

“I heard a ‘pop!’ Take a picture (of the bridge) before it’s too late.”

“Oooh. No, she’s OK. She’s OK! … There it goes!”

“Break it!”

Said Hussein, “This is a good opportunity for students to express their creativity and translate it into real world applications in a team effort.”

Student Lani Pullano said she enjoyed the opportunity to work in a group and brainstorm on the project while honing her engineering skills. “It was fun. Together we decided on an arch as the best design and then chose the wood (oak).” The team also tested components of the bridge before building the final entry. “It was good group effort,” she said.

Perhaps what the students take away from the experience was best summed up by the research poster from the team of Doug Porter, Mike Young and Mirza Malkoc:

“Plywood — $7.50

“Wood glue — $2.99

“FEG 410 — Priceless.”

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