Bridge Building Competition Returns to Vermont Tech

14 Mar 2022

Vermont Technical College announces the return of its popular Bridge Building competition with a high school event on Thursday, March 17, and a middle school event on Thursday, March 31, 2022.

The events will be held in Judd Hall at Vermont Tech’s Randolph campus. Due to COVID-19 precautions, participation will be restricted to students who built the bridges and their advisors. Lunch will not be offered.

Why model bridges?

Model bridges promote the study and application of physics and engineering and help students develop hands-on skills. Participating students experience what it is like to be an engineer, designing structures to a set of specifications and then testing their functionality.

Teams of students construct bridges in advance of the competition—using only popsicle sticks, Elmer’s glue, toothpicks, and dental floss. Bridges are judged on aesthetics and originality of design, presentation, ultimate load carrying capacity, strength-to-weight ratio, and predicted failure point. Teams consist of 1-6 students.

The competition is designed for students and teachers interested in math, science, physics, research, and engineering. Teams receive awards for 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place as well as awards for aesthetics, presentations, bridge designs, and team spirit.

John Diebold, professor in Vermont Tech’ Civil and Environmental Engineering Technology program, has been involved in planning the competition since its inception in 2015. Over the years, he has witnessed the excitement and enthusiasm of the students.

“It is a great way to showcase the college and the program,” he said. VTC students serve as ambassadors—escorting teams over to the “crusher” to check span and height. The “crusher” is a hydraulic cylinder applied to the deck of the bridge to see what the bridge can hold—a moment of excitement for all involved. Check out the video from 2018’s event.

Diebold has seen middle school groups create bridges that have held up to 2,700 pounds, and high school groups create bridges that have held up to 4,900 pounds.

Vermont Teachers Design Curricula Around the Competition

Teachers in high schools and middle schools throughout Vermont return each year to the competition, and some even design their curricula around the event.

Vicki Johnson from Randolph Union High School has had engineering students from all grade levels participate in the event since its inception. Her engineering units focus on structures, so students can apply their knowledge to the competition. “Students are always excited when they get there,” she said. “They get to see students from other schools, the bridges they’ve built, and effective designs being implemented right in front of them.”

ML McLaughlin from Barre Town Middle School and Elementary has also been bringing her eighth graders to the competition since its start. Groups of four students begin their designs in October. “It is a great way for students to learn to work out conflict, problem-solve as a group, and see a project from conception to completion. Students have said they have never felt more accomplished in their lives after the competition,” she said.

In past years, the Vermont Agency of Transportation (VAT) has provided funding for the event and its engineers have served as judges.

“It brings people out of the office and into the community,” Carolyn Cota at VAT said. “It sparks interest in STEM and engineering—that’s what it’s all about.”

Interested in signing up for the event? Check out our event page for more information on how to register.