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Katherine Liang

Awards Ceremony for Bridge Contest 2023
High school students become model bridge engineers in annual contest

Jacqueline Seifert, a senior at Commack High School, won first place in the 2023 Bridge Building Competition hosted by the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory on March 30.

The annual contest puts model bridges constructed by Long Island High School students to the ultimate pressure test. Students apply physics and engineering principles to build basswood structures to a set of specifications. Then, their bridges are judged based on efficiency, which is calculated using the mass of the bridge and the amount of weight it can support before breaking or bending more than one inch.

“This competition is an introduction to the world of engineering,” said Scott Bronson, manager for K–12 programs at the Lab’s Office of Educational Programs (OEP). “At Brookhaven Lab, engineers of all types support our science goals at world-class facilities and the DOE mission. We hope this contest inspires students to explore paths in science, technology, math, and engineering and to return to the Lab as interns and future employees.”

OEP received a total 142 bridges, of which 91 qualified for testing, captured below.

An awards ceremony to honor the winners was held at Brookhaven Lab on April 6. The top two winners in this regional competition qualify to compete in the International Bridge contest on April 29 in Chicago, IL.

Seifert, who earned second place in last year’s local competition and placed 16th in the previous international contest, designed a bridge that weighed 23.47grams and recorded an efficiency of 1342.22. As the testing machine slowly added more and more weight to Seifert’s W truss design, the Science Learning Center erupted in impressed “oohs” as the load hit close to 70 lbs. Retired Brookhaven Lab engineer and longtime competition supporter Marty Woodle noted right away “that’s an international contender.”

Seifert, who will pursue civil engineering at Vanderbilt University, said it was rewarding to watch her design hit that high bridge load. “The most exciting part was the experimentation and seeing what works and what doesn’t, finding the weak points in my bridge so I could continue to make it better,” she said. “I’ll see how it goes in the international competition.”

Katherine Liang, a junior at Ward Melville High School, who garnered first place in two previous contests and 9th and the last international competition, placed second this year with a design that realized an efficiency of 1094.44.

Third-place winner Jonathan Thomas, a junior at Walt Whitman High School, constructed a bridge that recorded an efficiency of 1048.18. After conducting bridge demos in a physics lab at school, Thomas learned his design needed more horizontal support and looked to previous competition winners for potential engineering ideas.“It’s definitely a career path I want to go into,” he said.

Aidan Quinn, a junior at Smithtown High School East won this year’s aesthetic award. Quinn’s double arch design was neat with clean lines, inspired by a photo his father showed him that captured a historical moment when a pilot flew a biplane under a bridge that once crossed the Niagara River.

“I would love to major in biomedical engineering,” Quinn said. “I’m glad I was able to participate in the competition. It was a great experience.” 

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