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Infrastructure Technology Institute

ITI Supports Students in Steel Bridge Competition


Guided by ITI faculty and staff engineers, Northwestern University’s student chapter of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) revived its Steel Bridge Competition team during this past school year when its membership decided to compete in the ASCE Great Lakes Student Conference for the first time since 2003.

The team of six students raised over $8,000 in corporate donations to fund a fabrication of the 21-foot long bridge. Starting in the fall of 2010, the students spent long hours designing, machining, welding, testing, and practicing assembly of the bridge, preparing it and themselves for the competition, held in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, on April 2, 2011.

On the day of the competition, the bridge was assembled and tested to see how much weight it could support. Although the bridge was disqualified from final competition due to a technicality, the student team was pleased with the performance. ITI Research Engineer David Corr, who advised the students during the bridge construction, said that “While most teams at these competitions have built up years of experience, the NU team began the process with no members who had previously taken part in the competition. The most competitive teams have a lot of institutional knowledge that is handed down,” Corr said. “All of ours is gone because it has been a number of years since NU competed.”

The team’s final act was to sacrifice the product of their efforts to make next year’s bridge better: On May 16, they loaded the bridge to failure in public view as part of a campus-wide Engineering Week event. With assistance from ITI engineers, the ASCE students instrumented the bridge with strain and deflection sensors and collected live data throughout the load test. Students will use the collected data to verify their analysis and improve next year’s design.