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Engineering Students Compete in Regional Steel Bridge Contest

Thursday, April 28, 2011

A team of students from the University of Kansas School of Engineering is looking for innovative ways to deal with pressure as finals approach.
Steel Bridge under construction

In addition to managing the stress of end-of-the-year classroom demands, the team of seven engineering students must design a structure that outlasts other universities competing today at the 2011 Regional Student Steel Bridge Competition at Kansas State University in Manhattan.

Steel Bridge under construction
The competition emphasizes the amount of weight the bridge can support and keeping estimated “real-world” construction costs low, while teams race the clock to assemble their structures. KU steel bridge team captain Chris Hagan, a sixth-year senior in architectural engineering, said this year’s competition guidelines throw in a new wrinkle — a cantilever, which is a design that leaves a span of the bridge without any direct support from below.

“That certainly throws in a curveball for everyone,” Hagan said. “This is the first year we’ve had a cantilever. In previous years, the bridges have always been simply supported, and then they’ve just changed some of the specifications. It’s going to be pretty tricky.”

The KU bridge is 21 feet long, 3 feet wide, 2 feet 6 inches tall and weighs around 315 pounds. It has an estimated real-world cost of about $4 million. The competition requires construction be complete within 30 minutes, but Hagan is confident the four team members assembling it will be done in about seven minutes. Hagan said the cantilever, or freely suspended, portion of the bridge must support 700 pounds and the rest of the structure must support 1,800 pounds. The entire bridge will also be tested on its lateral support — where judges will place 75 pounds on the side of the structure and pull it. If it sways farther than one-half inch, the team is disqualified.
Steel bridge under construction

Hagan said the team is looking to finish in the top three among approximately a dozen teams competing at regionals — which would secure a spot at the national steel bridge competition, set for May 21-22 at Texas A&M University in College Station.

“We certainly want to qualify for nationals, and we’re confident we will,” Hagan said. “We’re kind of bummed because nationals is on the same weekend as graduation and we have a lot guys on the team graduating. We’ll have a tough decision to make after regionals, assuming we do as well as we expect.”

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