|Contest near collapsed Skagit span
SEATTLE – While engineers are racing to rebuild the collapsed Skagit River bridge north of Seattle, engineering students from around the U.S. will gather just a few miles to the south May 31-June 1 to compete and do the same thing on a small scale.
Both Washington State University and the University of Washington qualified to participate in the national level of the National Steel Bridge competition.
“We need engineers more than ever to solve critical challenges for our national infrastructure,” said David Pollock, a professor in WSU’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and the student team’s advisor. “I think our students now know just how important their work is.”
The competition aims to give students hands-on training in engineering design, project management and work with steel materials. Students are judged on the ability of their bridge to withstand loading and on their speed in building it.
“These are the skills that will be absolutely required when students engage in real-world engineering design,” Pollock said.
PULLMAN, Wash. – Kevin Chang runs across the Sloan Hall courtyard at Washington State University with a utility belt around his waist and a steel bridge section in his hand.
“Tony, top,” he says, handing the piece to senior civil engineering student Chris Reynolds. Reynolds is standing in the middle of a half-constructed bridge that he holds with one hand while passing the section to Tony Parris. Parris, a civil engineering graduate student and team captain, holds the end of the bridge while attaching the new piece.
Over the past 2½ weeks the WSU steel bridge team has spent hours practicing bridge-building skills to prepare for the National Steel Bridge Competition June 1.The team placed second at the regional competition in May and will join 48 teams from around the country and Canada to compete in Seattle. The competition is sponsored by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) and the American Institute of Steel Construction.ASCE released a problem statement in the fall with specifications for a bridge for teams to design and fabricate. At the competition they will be scored on construction time, deflection (the degree to which a structural element is displaced under a load), appearance and weight of the bridge.
“For us it kind of became a hobby – or an obsession,” Chang says. “We would think and talk about it even outside of group meetings and class.”
During practice this week the WSU team sets up equipment like it will be on the day of the competition. They lay out the steel beams and triangular braces next to red cups filled with bolts and screws.
“All of these pieces came to us either as whole pipes or sheets of steel. We did all the cutting and forming of the sections,” says Chang, a senior civil engineering student who will be the team captain next year.
During spring semester they spent hours in Bill’s Welding & Machine Shop in downtown Pullman. The shop has supported the steel bridge team for several years.
“I don’t know what we’d do without him,” Reynolds says. Funding for the team’s materials mostly comes from civil engineering alumni donations.
Chang stays with the equipment, and Reynolds and Parris walk about 30 feet away and stand at the ready like football players. One of them starts a timer, and Chang begins running pieces over one at a time. They call to each other occasionally, indicating who the piece is for or where it should go.
“7:23. That’s our best time yet,” Reynolds says once they finish the practice run. What began as around 30 pieces of metal is now a steel bridge about 16 feet long.
“We’ve learned a lot by being able to apply what we learn in class to an actual project,” Chang says. “Plus, it’s just a lot of fun.”