Bridge-building champ beats stress to repeat


Now, these were dreams made from popsicle sticks and glue, to be sure, but some of them took a real beating before they succumbed. Still, it was a blow for their creators to hear the crack as each bridge reached its breaking point.

The 16th annual Bridge Building Competition for middle-schoolers had fifth- to eighth-graders competing to see which of their popsicle-stick bridge creations could survive, in some cases, more than 100 pounds of weight being lowered onto their decking.

The winning bridge, built by eighth-grader Emmett Niemeyer of Emmanuel-St. John’s Lutheran School in Monroeville, withstood a staggering 267 pounds from an IPFW-donated dream-crushing machine.

Even under all that stress, the bridge distorted only about 0.6 of an inch, making Niemeyer a winner for a second year in a row of the contest sponsored in conjunction with the National Engineers Week and the Anthony Wayne Chapter of the Indiana Society of Professional Engineers.

“I just added more supports,” said the 14-year-old Niemeyer. “It failed (last year) because the trusses spread apart, so I added these pieces so it wouldn’t fall apart.”

Wearing a Purdue University sweatshirt and hinting that he was aiming for an engineering career, Niemeyer said his secret weapon was attending last year’s contest for high schoolers to pick up hints.

Second place was taken by a team from St. John the Baptist School in Fort Wayne. Marco Escobar, 13, Joe Derrick, 12, and Jack Kuras, 13, stood by while a contingent of parents and students led by St. John’s principal, Barbara Cumberland, and science teacher Rachel Merz counted up the pounds to 185. The group cheered when the bridge passed 100 pounds.

St. John the Baptist School, with seven bridges built by teams or individuals for the event, accounted for nearly three-quarters of the entries in the contest.

“It’s a great opportunity for students,” Merz said. “They’re passionate about science … and they’re hands-on learners. Plus, the parents at St. John’s are extremely involved.”

Cumberland said that what students learn from the competition is more than science.

“It teaches them teamwork and to work with a partner, so it’s a social skill they learn,” she said.

Third place was taken by Katelin Sebring, 12, an Emmanuel-St. John’s seventh- grader. Her bridge withstood just over 145 pounds.

“It’s exciting,” said her mother, Amy Sebring of Fort Wayne, noting that this was her daughter’s second crack at bridge building. “It took her about three weeks, working a little bit at a time” to build the it.

Bridges were awarded points automatically by a computer-based formula that divided the failure weight by the weight of the bridge multiplied by the deformation measurement, said Rick Slaybach, a Fort Wayne civil engineer who helped organize the event.

The bridges weren’t submitted to real-world failure conditions, Slaybach said.

“It’s a static load,” he said, noting that bridges in the real world face many other types of loads that can cause failure.

But he hopes the competition will build a bridge to the future for participants. An event for area high schoolers will take place Saturday.

“We do it for the kids, to get more kids into engineering,” he said. “That’s the bottom line.”


Read More: Popsicle Sticks Making Machine



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