New Mexico Tech Team Scores Well at Bridge-Building Competition, April 9, 2008

Bridge Builders

by Thom Guengerich

Right: top row, l to r: Philip Heid and Bryan Mitchell. Bottom row: Scot Youngblood, Dr. Claudia Wilson, Robert Montoya, Joe Sullivan, and Kim Coleman

GOLDEN, Colo., April 9, 2008 – A group of 22 New Mexico Tech undergraduate students saw their hard work pay off last weekend at the American Society of Civil Engineers bridge building competition.

The team, led by junior Philip Heid, scored the best marks for having the strongest bridge out of the 12 teams that entered the competition. Tech students also participated in the “Can-struction” service project and two students presented research papers.

Assistant professor Dr. Claudia Wilson, the team’s faculty advisor and coach, said Heid gets the bulk of the credit for designing the 20-foot truss bridge.

“Philip was the designer and the team captain,” Wilson said. “There was no way they could have done it without him. He designed the bridge, scheduled all the meetings, got everyone involved, encouraged everyone.”

Heid said he took the reins of the bridge building project because he wanted to see New Mexico Tech represented at the competition and because he helped the seniors who designed and constructed the bridge last year.

“This is the first year that the bridge building is not a senior design project,” Heid said. “I’m an officer in the club and I wanted to make sure we didn’t let down the club or the school.”

The team of volunteer students built a simple truss bridge that showed the least amount of deflection – or sag – when loaded with 2,500 pounds of weight.

“They did very well,” Wilson said. “I was impressed with their results. The club members took on this project without getting any official credit for it and they really worked hard.”

Per the competition rules, each bridge had to be assembled on site with pieces that could be no longer than 42 inches and no heavier than 20 pounds.

“Last September we read the rules and looked at the design,” Heid said. “We tried to build a girder bridge and we looked at different styles all fall and into the spring. Eventually, we gave up. A girder bridge would have been intense to fabricate and we didn’t have enough time.

“In February, we decided to go with a simple truss design with all equilateral triangles,” Heid said. “We didn’t really consider weight or assembly. We just wanted a bridge together to take to competition.”

The construction team was Heid, Bryan Mitchell, Scot Youngblood, Robert Montoya, Joe Sullivan and Kim Coleman. Other club member who went to Colorado were Alex Plonszak, Marissa Paiz, Matthew Stanfield, James Martin and Isaac Simmons.

Other Tech students who helped with the fabrication but could not attend the competition were Brandon Herrera, Hunter Riek, Michael Maestes and Nils Gram.

James Martin, Isaac Simmons, Matt Stanfield and Marissa Paiz participated in the “Can-struction” service project. The Tech team built a structure with cans they collected during the school year.

Mitchell presented his research paper, "Airfield Surface Pavement Evaluation." He received sixth place in the Civil and Environmental Engineering division.

Sullivan received second place for his paper: "The Future of Our Infrastructure." Sullivan entered the non-technical paper competition, whose theme was "Ethical Issues Surrounding Infrastructure Privatization."

Dr. Wilson gave the bridge-building team members autonomy to complete the project by themselves, but she served as coach and taskmaster.

“They must have practiced putting the bridge together 15 times,” Dr. Wilson said. “They hated me for a while, but they thanked me on the day of the competition. During practice, I timed them and encouraged them.”

The Tech entry was rated the fifth best overall, but was the highest rated bridge for structural strength. Wilson said she is especially proud of Heid and his crew for designing and assembling a bridge that proved to be the most structurally sound.

“Deflection is the one aspect that shows the quality of design and how structurally sound the bridge is,” she said. “Speed of assembly is an advantage, but not as great as advantage as how strong your bridge is.”

Heid said the experience of designing a bridge and leading a team is invaluable. He plans to work for a structural engineering firm this summer.

“I did get good experience working with structural analysis programs,” he said.

As the team neared the competition date, Heid tried to meet three times a week – including some meetings that he attended by himself. Other times, he and other team members worked until midnight – sometimes seven or eight hours at a time.

Heid said he was lucky to have a certified welder on his team – Terrence Henio – and another team member who is proficient at welding, Bryan Mitchell.

Heid is a junior civil engineering major from Louisville, Ky., who transferred from Berea College in central Kentucky. He said he ran several computer models before deciding on a design.

“I did a lot of calculations for the bridge – the truss strength and the bolted connections,” he said. “I had some doubts about how the whole thing would perform because computer models can only take you so far.”

Ever modest, Heid said he became the leader by default.

“I submitted designs and everyone else in the club said, ‘Let’s try that one’,” he said. “It wasn’t with any foresight that I became team leader. I just happened.”

The regional conference also featured a concrete canoe competition, which consists in designing and fabricating a concrete canoe that is transported to the competition and raced by team members.

The Tech students did not enter that competition, but Dr. Wilson said, “We are planning on participating in that event in the near future.”