Student engineers bear stress of building bridges

February 24, 1991|By Traci A. Johnson | Traci A. Johnson,Special to The Sun

Aaron Curtiss, a senior at Southern High School in Ann Arundel County, didn't flinch yesterday as pieces of the basswood bridge he had painstakingly constructed splintered to the floor the Fifth Regiment Armory under about 45 pounds of pressure.

"It didn't bother me at all," said Curtiss, who spent 12 hours designing and building his bridge.

"I've entered bridge contests before. I know what to expect."

His fiancee, Lisa Raley, also a senior at Southern High School, did not share his sentiments.

"He doesn't care, and it breaks my heart," she said, looking at a pile of broken bridges. "It is so sad. The sound they make when they crack is horrible."

That sound was heard again and again yesterday as a machine that looks as if it were made of Lincoln Logs and can exert 200 pounds of pressure brought down all of the nearly 200 model bridges entered in the Bridge Building Challenge, sponsored by the American Society of Civil Engineers chapter at the University of Maryland at College Park for National Engineers' Week.

High school students from throughout Maryland competed in the event, where bridges were judged for strength and aesthetics.

The three highest scorers in each category and the five bridges with the highest combined scores received cash prizes from the American Society of Civil Engineers and the Maryland Society of Professional Engineers.

"This contest has gotten much bigger over the years," said Paul DeVivo, chairman of the contest committee. The competition began with five contestants five years ago and had more than 100 last year. This year, it was moved the Public Works Museum to the armory for more space and switched from balsa wood to basswood because the quality is more consistent, he said.

But the basswood bridges seemed to break just as easily as the balsa spans of previous competitions.

Tan Lam from Centennial High School in Howard County, Joe Uttenreither of Loch Raven High School in Baltimore County and Scott Kapushansky of De Matha High School in Prince George's County won first, second and third place, respectively, for the highest amount of combined points. The top bridges in Maryland will be eligible for the International Bridge Building Contest at the Illinois Institute of Technology in May.

Elementary students tried their hands at designing insulation that would protect a raw egg during a 40-foot plunge yesterday )) in the Egg Drop Contest, sponsored by the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers Inc.

Of 12 entries, four eggs survived intact. Cash prizes were based on the most compact packaging that protected its contents.

Steve Curry, who put his egg in a small box surrounded by Styrofoam chips, won $40 and first place for his package.

Ten-year-old Donte Lyles of Elmer A. Henderson Elementary in East Baltimore developed the second-place winning entry -- an egg tucked between two hollowed sponges wrapped in Styrofoam.

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