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Engineering students at Sheldon High School recently tackled an ancient civil engineering problems in search of a modern solution to help improve America’s bridges. The importance of the upkeep of our country’s bridges was stressed in a press release published this January by the U. S. Department of Transportation stating, “while the percentage of structurally deficient bridges decreased from 14.2 percent to 11 percent, “the recent ‘Conditions and Performance’ report – identified an $836 billion backlog of unmet capital investment needs for highways and bridges, or about 3.4 percent more than the estimate made in the previous report…In 2012…, federal, state and local governments combined spent $105.2 billion on this infrastructure – 35.5 percent less than what is needed to improve highways and bridges.”

Clearly, the need for well constructed bridges remains to be a top concern for transportation safety and commerce. With a vision of constructing a strong and sound bridge, three teams from Sheldon High School’s Building Trades and Construction Pathway participated in the Professional Engineers in California Government’s (PECG) inaugural Bridge Building Competition. Participating teams submitted official proposals, which included 3D drawings, data from the bridge and information about the bridge design and construction process.

Bridging Ideas into Functional Reality

Using modern technology for the construction of bridges, students learned and used an industry standard Bentley CAD computer engineering program to develop their bridge design protocols. After days of fine-tuning weak areas, researching real-world examples of both well-designed and poorly-designed bridges and running scenarios of plausible situations, the teams moved forward with their best designs. Blueprints in hand, it was time to build their prototypes.

Of the three teams, Team Tridynamics focused on developing a strong bridge deck and experimented with different types of arches. According to a civil engineering student group who studied arches at the University of New Hampshire (UNH), “The arch first appeared in building construction, brought to the Greeks from Mesopotamia around the 4th Century BC.” The Tridynamics wanted to see the impact of long/stressed on wood before snapping. Wood was a unique choice because as the UNH students pointed out, “Throughout the Middle Ages and into the Renaissance the primary building material for arched bridges was masonry. There were bridges built of wood during this time, but stone is a material much better suited to the stresses created by an arch.” Despite, many failed attempts, the Tridynamics found a peak efficiency point of the arch radius and moved forward with assembling three variations of the same bridge.

Of the three teams, Team We(a)boss and Tridynamics qualified for finals held Saturday, January 28, 2017 at Sacramento State University. In front of several civil engineering judges, each team gave a 5-10 minute presentation, responded to tough design questions and ultimately put each bridge to the test to see how much weight they could hold. Through determination, persistence and focus after school and during weekends our two teams proudly took home second and third place.