Engineering Students Build Models of Bridges

Engineering Students Build Models of Bridges photo

Rye Neck High School students – who have been learning about the engineering design process in Daniel Moy’s Introduction to Engineering elective course – were recently challenged to design, construct and test their own bridges as a culminating activity to their studies.

After conducting extensive research and identifying different designs and solutions, the students worked individually or in groups to complete one-to-one scale drawings of their constructions. Then, adhering to size constraints and using limited supplies of materials such as balsa wood, basswood, super glue and balsa cutters, they began building their bridges. 

“This project was linked to civil engineering and the concept of forces on structures,” said Moy, a teacher and science department chairman. “The overall task was to design and build a bridge that would have the best load-to-mass ratio, meaning it had to hold the most weight and weigh the least to score a top ratio.” 

Once the students completed their constructions, they weighed their bridges, which were not supposed to exceed 25 grams, and began testing how much weight they could support by pouring sand into a centrally loaded bucket to provide the test load. The challenge was for each bridge to support a load of 15,000 grams. 

“What is fun for the students is testing the bridges until they fail or break into many pieces, and then calculating their ratio,” Moy said. “The ultimate point to making a successful bridge is being meticulous in construction: clean cuts of wood, no-gap joints where pieces of wood are glued together, and symmetry of each side.”

Afterwards, the students had the opportunity to refine their designs and analyze what they could improve, similarly to how engineers and scientists solve problems in the laboratory and real world.

“I love working on hands-on projects,” freshman Julia DeLitta said. “I loved taking piecing of wood, building [the bridge] myself and then testing it to see the results. The project taught me how professionals design their bridges.”