May 29, 2013

UW to host student steel bridge competition this weekend

News and Information

Just a week after the Interstate 5 Skagit River Bridge collapse north of Seattle, the University of Washington will host a national steel bridge competition for undergraduate civil engineering students.

Forty-nine finalist teams and about 600 people will converge on campus this Friday and Saturday for the 2013 National Student Steel Bridge Competition. It’s the largest club event in the nation for civil engineering undergraduates, said Jeffrey Berman, faculty adviser for the UW team and an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering.

UW team competes at regional competition 2013

U of Washington

University of Washington team members compete during a regional competition this year.

The UW was chosen earlier this year to be the host institution. The Skagit bridge collapse might be discussed during a banquet event, but elements of the competition were set months ago and were not changed after the collapse, Berman said. Many of the student designs, however, will be steel truss structures similar to the Skagit bridge.

“These bridges might look a little different from the Skagit bridge, but most will also be truss bridges because they are very efficient and fast to build,” Berman said.

From 3-6 p.m. on Friday (May 31), each of the 49 student-built steel bridges will be on display on the UW’s Red Square. Students will be judged for the aesthetics of their bridges, which are roughly one-fifth the size of a standard bridge, or about 20 feet long and 4 feet wide.

Then on Saturday, the teams will race to assemble their bridges in the Alaska Airlines Arena at Hec Edmundson Pavilion. During the school year, the teams designed and built prefabricated pieces to fit the competition’s detailed specifications. In the finals, teams will be judged on how fast they can assemble their bridges, how much they weigh and how the structures deform under large loads.

The Saturday portion of the competition will run from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Teams will compete in rounds, and close to 50 local civil engineers and UW alumni will serve as judges. Most of the scheduled events are open to the public.

“The students go through the design and fabrication process themselves,” Berman said. “It’s a really good opportunity to take what they learn in the classroom and actually apply it here in the competition.”

Teams will have to work through a number of realistic constraints as they build the bridges, including a fake river they can’t step in and height-clearance restrictions for traffic. All of the teams have competed regionally before the finals, so the chance of a collapse is relatively small, Berman said.

The annual competition is sponsored by the American Institute of Steel Construction and the American Society of Civil Engineers.

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For more information, contact Berman at jwberman@uw.edu or 206-616-3530. UW student team members are available for interviews; please go through Berman.

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