UConn Steel Bridge Team Headed To National Competition

The UConn Steel Bridge team will compete in the 2009 National Student Steel Bridge Competition in Las Vegas in late May. On April 4th, the team scored third place in the Northeast Regional Steel Bridge Competition, hosted by the Wentworth Institute of Technology in Boston — a performance that earned the team its trip to the national finals. It is the fourth consecutive year UConn has traveled to the national competition, and this year’s team is busy refining its design and looking for financial support to defray the travel expenses, estimated at $5,000.

photoA total of 12 teams competed in Boston, with MIT and Laval University (Quebec) capturing the first and second places in the competition. UConn’s team includes Civil Engineering students Alison Galasso, Christopher Wall, Nicholas Keenan, Gregory Khirallah, Stephen Prusaczyk, Dan Veronesi, Joel Szarkowicz, Corey Forte, Brian Swanson, Ryan Walsh, Kevin Zmetra, Dave Bausch, Nick Pellon and Ben Koehler.

During the Northeast Regional competition the teams arrived with their bridges unassembled. The UConn team fabricated their own parts throughout the school year, in contrast with some teams that arrived with professionally-made pieces. During the morning, teams were given time to assemble their entry, and each team was judged on its speed of assembly while negotiating a virtual obstacle-course separating the parts staging area and the assembly area. The UConn team, with just four builders, took under 8 1/2 minutes to assemble their 18.5-foot long model, which they previously designed to meet strict specifications.

In addition to assembly time, all entries are judged on a variety of other criteria, including weight, efficiency, aesthetics, and deflection – or vertical displacement. In the deflection portion of the competition, judges place two sets of weights, with a combined weight of 2,500 pounds, at randomly selected three foot sections along the bridge span to simulate distributed loads. The extent of deflection under stress is suggestive of the design’s stability and strength. The UConn bridge took first place in the weight category at the regional competition. At 168 pounds, the bridge was significantly lighter than the next heaviest bridge, which was 233 pounds (MIT).

photoAlison and Chris said the team has benefited enormously from the technical advice and assistance of UConn alumnus Michael Culmo, P.E., who has mentored the Steel Bridge team for years. Mr. Culmo, who earned a B.S. in civil engineering in ’83 and a master’s degree in structural engineering in ’86 — both at UConn, is Vice President of Transportation and Structures for CME Associates. He commented, “I am very proud of the team. It is remarkable that an 18-foot span bridge that weighs only 168 pounds can support this weight with only 1/2 inch of deflection.”

The Wallingford, CT office of Infra-Metals provided financial and material support for the team. Infra-Metals has provided UConn Steel Bridge teams with steel to fabricate their novel bridge entries for the annual competition for years. This year, the company increased its support by donating a complete set of weights, similar to those used for the actual competition, so that future teams may fully test their bridges before competing.

The honor of competing in Las Vegas comes at a cost, roughly $5,000, to cover the team’s airfare, hotel accommodations, and entry fees. Anyone wishing to donate toward the team’s expenses may contact Dr. Amvrossios Bagtzoglou at acb@engr.uconn.edu.