Spectacular spaghetti spans Engineering: Students try to achive the prefect construction of power and pasta in a bridge-building contest at the Maryland Science Center.


November 05, 1998|By Sandra Crockett | Sandra Crockett,SUN STAFF

Laura Brean is getting an education in spaghetti. She knew someday it would come to that.

Brean is a freshman at Johns Hopkins University who figures she would like to be an engineer one day. And that's where the spaghetti comes in.

"When I was younger, I remember seeing the older kids make a spaghetti bridge," says the 18-year-old Pittsburgh native. "And it looked interesting."

She and other Hopkins students are taking an introductory engineering class. One of the class assignments is to build a bridge made with spaghetti and designed to hold as much weight as possible.

The stakes are big.

"Any team that builds a bridge that will carry more than 10K, that is about 22 pounds, will be exempt from the [final] exam," says their professor, Dr. Michael Karweit. "And there is an Alumni Prize of $100 for the bridge that carries the most weight."

This is the university's fifth annual spaghetti bridge competition. It will be held at the Maryland Science Center on Sunday at 3 p.m.

"The reason we do this is to try to get young people interested in science and engineering," says Maris St. Cyr, a spokeswoman for the Maryland Science Center.

And students build bridges to put theory into practice, Karweit says.

"This is an introductory class in engineering, and I was looking for a project that would involve a lot of different things," he says.

The bridge-building is a hands-on project the class undertakes in addition to hearing lectures, doing lab work and writing essays.

"I ask them, 'How can you apply these things'? I say I want them to design a bridge," Karweit says. "And then, I say, I want you to build it. It is a very big step from designing something on paper to actually building it."

Over the years, there have been amazing bridges that were engineering marvels. The record-holding winning bridge supported a weight of 387 pounds. And, of course, there have been some bridges that didn't quite cut it.

"There have been lopsided bridges," Karweit says.

The students work mostly in teams of three, and there will be about 25 bridges.

Brean is certain she wants to become an engineer, but she's not yet sure what kind. She knows the bridge-building is no easy assignment.

"It's a lot of hard work, but it should be interesting," she says.

Brean is on a team that includes student Jeff Batis.

Batis, a 19-year-old from Taos, N.M., hasn't decided if he will major in engineering, but he was curious enough to take the class. He does know that although the spaghetti bridge project looks like fun to spectators, it's more than that.

"It will be a lot of work," Batis says. "Especially when you have to squeeze it in around labs."

It takes about 35 hours to build a bridge, with two to three boxes of spaghetti for each one, Karweit estimates. This project will help students learn that there is a great deal of "creating and communication" involved in engineering, the professor says.

Not the least of which is coming up with a creative name for the bridge, which students are required to do.

A few of this year's names are: "Cappuccino Crossing," "The Yellow Gate Bridge," "Caesar's Suspension," "The Angel Hair Traverse," "The Stromboli Span" and "The Vermicelli Viaduct."

So what does it take to make a good engineer?

"Engineers have to like to do things," Karweit says. "But that's like asking, 'What does it take to be a good cook?' You can follow all of the recipes, but still a good cook can just taste it and say, 'It needs more lemon.' "

When it's all over, the students typically have mixed feelings about the bridge-building competition, Karweit says, as shown by a questionnaire they fill out after the course.

"When asked what is the best thing about the class, they answer 'the spaghetti bridge,' " Karweit says. "And when asked what is the worst thing, they answer, 'the spaghetti bridge.' "


What: Spaghetti Bridge Competition

Where: Maryland Science Center, 601 Light St.

When: Sunday, 3 p.m. (bridges will be on display beginning at 1 p.m.)

Cost: Regular museum admission, $9.75 for adults 19 and older; $8 for seniors 50 and older and youths 13-18; $7 for children 4-12; free for kids under 12

Call: 410-685-2370


Rules and tips for building a spaghetti bridge:

The bridge can weigh no more than .75 kilograms (approximately 1.65 pounds).

It must span a distance of one meter.

Nail clippers work well for cutting spaghetti.

Use epoxy for the glue (it is not water-based).

You can find more information on the Internet at http: //www.jhu.edu/virtlab.

Pub Date: 11/05/98

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