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Bridge Building Competition

Katherine Liang of Paul J. Gelinas Junior High School with the bridge that earned her first place in BNL’s annual Bridge Building Contest

Sometimes the term building bridges takes on a more literal meaning. 

David Liang of Ward Melville High School placed second in the bridge building contest.

The Office of Educational Programs (OEP) at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Brookhaven National Laboratory announced local students who earned the top spots in both the  2021 Bridge Building Contest and 2021 Maglev Competition during an online awards ceremony on April 16.

Each competition, held virtually this year, offers students a hands-on opportunity to apply math, science, and technology principles as they design and build bridges and magnetic levitation cars.

“Conceiving, designing, and building the one-of-a-kind facilities at Brookhaven National Laboratory takes extraordinary vision on the part of our scientists and our engineers to advance our science mission,” said OEP Manager Kenneth White. 

“These two competitions test the design and analytical skill of contestants to create bridges and vehicles to exacting specifications and performance expectations much like our facilities demand of our staff. We hope some of these contestants will be our staff one day to take on another engineering challenge supporting extraordinary discoveries.”

Bridge Building Competition

Victor Prchlik of Ward Melville High School took third place in the bridge building contest.

In the annual Bridge Building Contest, high school students became engineers competing to construct the most efficient model bridge out of lightweight wood. Efficiency is calculated from the bridge’s weight and the weight the bridge can hold before breaking or bending more than one inch. The higher the efficiency, the better the design and construction.

Dedicated Brookhaven Lab staff engineers and technicians tested 40 qualifying structures during a live online event on April 8.

Katherine Liang, a 9th grade student of Paul J. Gelinas Junior High School earned first place with a bridge that weighed 18.7 grams, supported 38.6 pounds. The bridge earned an efficiency of 936.29.

For some students, a trial-and-error process was key to solidifying a design. Liang said she built and tested five bridges by weighing them down with a bucket of sand before submitting her final winning structure.

Second place went to David Liang of Ward Melville High School, whose bridge weighed 19 grams, held 36.4 pounds had an efficiency of 868.98.

Victor Prchlik, also from Ward Melville High School, placed third with a bridge that weighed 23.7 and supported 44.5 pounds with an efficiency of 851.87

Jonathan Chung of Smithtown East High School won this year’s Aesthetic Award.

“The whole process was fun from start to finish,” Chung said. “One of the most challenging parts was getting the glue to stick the wood together. I ended up solving that problem by using a hairdryer to dry it.”

This year’s Bridge Building Contest Aesthetic Award went to Jonathan Chung of Smithtown East High School, pictured with physics teacher Dr. Gillian Winters.

Brookhaven Lab staff tested magnetic levitation cars built by students from Island Trees Middle School and Bay Shore Middle School to see who came up with the fastest design.

MAGLEV Contest

This year’s Maglev Contest for 6th, 7th, and 8th grade students included two main categories for speed and appearance. Brookhaven Lab staff tested 21 maglev cars for speed on a fixed gravity track–13 of which reached the finish line.

Brady Leichtman of Bay Shore Middle School won first place in the speed category.

Second place went to Isabella Rouleau of Bay Shore Middle School. Jesse Bonura of Island Trees Middle School placed third and also won the top spot in the competition’s appearance category with a futuristic blue car. Bay Shore Middle School students Amber Marquez and Andrea Romero, placed second and third in the appearance category, respectively.

Brookhaven Lab staff tested magnetic levitation cars to see who came up with the fastest design. Bonura found that part of the fun was testing and reengineering the maglev’s design. “We’d make it quicker and test it over and over again to make it perfect,” Bonura said.

The maglev contest is based on research by two Brookhaven engineers, the late Gordon Danby and James Powell, who invented and patented maglev technology—the suspension, guidance, and propulsion of vehicles by magnetic forces.

Magnetic properties give the maglev trains their extraordinary capabilities for speed and stability. These same principles—using magnetic forces to move matter — are used in world-class research facilities at Brookhaven Lab, including the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC) and the National Synchrotron Light Source II (NSLS-II) — which are both DOE Office of Science user facilities. Magnetic properties allow the machines to move particles at nearly the speed of light for research purposes.

Brookhaven National Laboratory is supported by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science. For more information, visit https://energy.gov/science.

Photos courtesy of BNL

Justin Zhang

Justin Zhang, a junior at Ward Melville High School in East Setauket, won first place in the 2019 Model Bridge Building Contest at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton.

In this annual regional competition, coordinated by BNL’s Office of Educational Programs, high school students across Long Island design, construct and test model bridges made of basswood that are intended to be simplified versions of real-world bridges. Participants must apply physics and engineering principles to meet a stringent set of specifications. Their bridges are judged based on efficiency, which is calculated using the weight of the bridge and the amount of weight it can support before breaking or bending more than one inch. A separate award is given to the student with the most aesthetic design.

For this year’s competition, 132 students from 15 high schools registered bridges. Fifty-two students representing nine schools qualified. An awards ceremony to honor the winners was held at BNL on March 15.

Zhang, whose bridge weighed 12.75 grams and had an efficiency of 2819.03, was unable to attend the ceremony because he was participating in the New York State Science Olympiad. Zhang’s father accepted the award on his behalf.

“I had built bridges, towers, and, more recently, boomilevers (kind of like the arm at the end of a crane) as a participant on my school’s Science Olympiad team and I really love civil engineering,” said Zhang. 

“So, the Bridge Building Contest perfectly fit both my past experience and interests. Through the competition, I was able to improve upon the ideas that I had developed in years prior working on engineering challenges and apply some new things that I had learned. It was particularly challenging for me to adjust to all the specific rules involved in the construction process,” he explained.

Gary Nepravishta, a freshman at Division Avenue High School in Levittown, took second place with his bridge weighing 18.2 grams and having an efficiency of 1949.45.

With a mass of 13.88 grams and efficiency of 1598.68, the bridge built by senior William Musumeci of Smithtown High School East won third place. “I built one bridge and tested it to see where it broke, and then I used a computer-aided design program to make a stronger bridge.” said Musumeci, who will be attending Farmingdale University to study construction engineering.

Sophomore Benjamin Farina of John Glenn High School in Elwood won the aesthetic award for best-looking bridge.

An honorary award was given to retired BNL engineer Marty Woodle, who was recognized for his 40 years of service as a volunteer for the competition. 

“If you become an engineer, you are not necessarily trapped into one little aspect of science,” said Woodle. “The world is open to you to do some really fascinating work.”

Zhang’s and Nepravishta’s bridges have been entered into the 2019 International Bridge Building Contest, to be held in Baltimore, Maryland, in early April. For more information, visit www.science.energy.gov.