WRA Victorious at Bridge Building

Some lucky Western Reserve Academy students may have caught a glimpse of a group at the Center for Technology Innovation, and Creativity with boxes of balsa wood and design sketches. They may have been cutting and measuring, puzzling over their diagrams, or supergluing the wood together (or their fingers!). To those of you confused about or unaware the work of this small group of students, welcome to the world of model bridge building.

Bridge Building at WRA currently consists of six students and two teams that are led by Chemistry teacher Mr. Butensky-Bartlett and compete in the Summit County Model Bridge Building Competition. The competition pits teams of students from high schools throughout the county in a contest to build the strongest bridge they can using only balsa wood, glue, and their careful skills of assembly. There are some specifications on size, but for the most part teams are left to the bounds of their creativity as far as designs go.

The bridge builders spend the weeks leading up to the competition in careful preparation. Using a combination of inspiration from past WRA designs and bridges from previous winners as well as their own ingenuity, each of the three-student teams gradually finalizes its design. They consider measurements and structural integrity, while keeping in mind the three hour time limit during the competition. Not only must teams build a strong, well-designed bridge, but they are also in a race against the clock on the day that they compete and must be able to finish their model. It is not quite the most exact science, but the students do carefully consider what structures will strengthen the bridge and what is extraneous. The reason this deliberation is so important is because bridges are not only scored based on the weight they hold before breaking, but also the ratio of the weight held to the weight of the bridge itself. As a result, teams must decide if adding an extra support structure will be worth it and increase this ratio.

The day of the competition, teams went to the Summit County Fairgrounds to build their bridges. As soon as the building time kicked off, there was a flurry of activity. Only interrupted by a few short breaks, the students all worked diligently to construct their bridges efficiently and precisely. At the end of the day, bridges were tested by hanging a bucket below them and adding weight until the bridge broke. It is a sad sight to see the day’s work destroyed, but some of the structural accomplishments were remarkable. Our first team, consisting of Peter Campanelli ’18, Matthew Groll ’18, and Matthew Bloom ’19, placed second at the competition, with their bridge holding 97.4 pounds and weighing 33 grams (the conflicting units are a bit confusing, but it is what the competition records). The second team placed twelfth, with a bridge that held 47 pounds and weighed 47 grams. Not only were the teams’ performances impressive, the experience was certainly valuable for all involved.

-Matthew Bloom ’17

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