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KU steel bridge team earns spot at national competition

Monday, May 3, 2010

The University of Kansas steel bridge team is on its way to the 2010 National Student Steel Bridge Competition after a second-place finish April 23 at the regional competition in Norman, Okla.
Members of the KU Steel Bridge team at the regional competition in Norman, Okla.

The team finished first in three of seven categories, earning top honors for lightness, economy and construction speed. The KU team was the only one to complete the bridge with less than three people and in less than 10 minutes. Real-world construction of the bridge was estimated at $6.9 million, the second-lowest cost at the competition.

Now the focus shifts to national competition, set for May 28-29 at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind. All teams heading to nationals can spend the next month tinkering with their bridges in hopes of perfecting performance. Josh Crain, co-captain of KU’s bridge team and a second-year structural engineering master’s student, said the KU bridge crew can still make improvements.

“If our bridge would’ve been a little bit stiffer and better with deflection (the amount of weight the bridge can support), we would’ve easily gotten first place in regionals, because we dominated everybody with how much our bridge weighed and how long it took to put it together,” Crain said.

Members of the KU Steel Bridge team at the regional competition in Norman, Okla.
Crain and teammate Chris Hagan, a fifth-year senior majoring in architectural engineering, form the two-man team that assembles the bridge, which consists of 30 pieces and 28 bolts. Though increasing the structure’s stiffness would add time and weight to the overall construction, Crain said the team is so far ahead of the rest of the field in these areas, they can afford to take the extra time.

The bridge components must be kept at least 30 feet from the construction zone, and no individual piece can be longer than 3.5 feet, or wider than 6 inches. Once assembled, the bridge must be 19 to 21 feet long, 3 to 4 feet wide and no taller than 2 feet, 9 inches. The team is judged on how fast the bridge is assembled, how much it weighs and how much weight it can hold — it must withstand a load of 2,500 pounds.

Crain said making nationals shows the dedication of the team, and it’s something they can enjoy beyond the battle lines of the competition.

“It’s an accomplishment to talk to potential employers about,” Crain said. “It makes the school look good, and your professors are real happy with you.”

This marks KU’s first trip to the national bridge competition since 1997. The team will compete against about 50 other universities from around the nation, including in-state rival Kansas State University.

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