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Popsicle bridges put to the test in annual competition

February 18, 2018

With a pace at times similar to an auctioneer’s chant, Rick Slayback provided running commentary Saturday as six popsicle stick bridges were put to the test.

“I’ve always been impressed by the bridges that come across this machine,” he said to a small audience at Concordia Lutheran High School.

Although the Middle School Bridge Design Competition lets participants use only two materials : Elmer’s yellow wood glue and up to 200 popsicle sticks : Slayback said students’ creativity continues to surprise him.

Slayback represented the Anthony Wayne Chapter of the Indiana Society of Professional Engineers, which sponsored the 19th annual event with the 2018 DiscoverE Committee.

Participants represented New Haven Middle School, St. Paul’s Lutheran School and St. John-Emmanuel Lutheran School.

The goal is for a bridge to bear as much weight as possible with the least amount of deflection or bending.

Other than meeting certain measurements, such as a 24-inch span, participants weren’t limited on their design. Bridges needn’t look alike, Slayback said, referencing the bridges at IPFW as real-life examples.

Some entries withstood less than 100 pounds while others carried peak loads more than twice that.

Eventual second-place winner Kayla Jones, for instance, watched as her bridge’s load rose to its peak of nearly 265 pounds : a progression Slayback briskly narrated as the testing device provided instantaneous measurements.

Regardless of an entry’s quality, students got the same valuable experience of constructing a bridge and learning engineering concepts, Slayback said.

He encouraged the contestants to apply this year’s lessons to next year’s competition. Returning participants this year included Kayla, who previously placed fourth, and Eli Niemeyer, who earned his second consecutive first-place win.

Previous experience wasn’t necessary to do well, however. First-time participant Josh Castleman got third.

Winners received 30 and $15.

The high school bridge contest is Saturday. Check-in begins at 9 a.m. with testing beginning at 9:30 a.m. in the Engineering, Technology, and Computer Science lobby at IPFW.

asloboda@jg.net