High Schoolers to Test Strength of Popsicle Stick Bridges at CSUN Competition

One of the bridges in the 2013 competition. Photo courtesy of Bolynet Sieng.

One of the bridges in the 2013 competition. Photo courtesy of Bolynet Sieng.

Just how strong is a bridge built out of popsicle sticks?

Approximately 250 high school students from throughout Southern California will find out Saturday, Feb. 15, when they take part in the American Society of Civil Engineers’ 20th Annual Popsicle Stick Bridge Competition at California State University, Northridge.

Seventy teams will face off during the daylong event designed to expose high school students to the civil engineering profession, and introduce them to some of the challenges and triumphs that civil engineers face in their careers.

“Our goal is to get the kids interested in structural and civil engineering,” said CSUN civil engineering senior Bolynet Sieng, a member of CSUN’s chapter of the American Society of Civil Engineers and one of the event’s coordinators. “The day is going to be a lot of fun as the kids discover how the bridges they built function during the competition and get to make presentations on their work.”

The teams of two to four students and one sponsoring teacher were tasked with designing and constructing a model bridge made solely from common wooden craft sticks and all-purpose white school glue. The objective: build the strongest bridge — one that will hold the largest applied load before failure.

Judges will score the teams on the strength of their structure, its workmanship, presentation and a technical report that describes the design and construction phases of their project. The students also will take part in an impromptu design competition that will test their ability to perform an assigned task on the day of event without any prior knowledge of the materials to be used or the objective.

Sieng said the annual competition is a fun way for high school students to develop engineering skills through critical thinking, problem solving, teamwork and creativity.

The day is scheduled to begin at 8 a.m. with registration, followed by a welcome from university officials in the University Student Union on the west side of the campus at 18111 Nordhoff St. in Northridge. The first round of the bridge competition begins at 10 a.m. and will continue throughout the day until 5 p.m. Bridge testing and the impromptu contest will take place in Jacaranda Hall, near the center of the campus.

The event’s organizers hope the competition sparks students’ interest in civil engineering and opens the doors for their pursuit of math, science and engineering-related careers, Sieng said.

For more information about the Popsicle Stick Bridge Competition, visit the American Society of Civil Engineers’ website http://mlab-ymf.org/events/popsicle-stick-bridge-competition.