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UMD Hosts Toothpick Bridge Competition


student winning bridge competition at the university of minnesota duluth  
In 2012, Kenneth Morris (right) from Bayfield received a first place plaque for the most aesthetically pleasing bridge.
toothpick brige competition held at the university of minnesota duluth
ASCE's Toothpick Bridge Competition held in UMD's Civil Engineering Lab in 2012.

Using only toothpicks, glue, and skill, high school students will vie for first place in a toothpick bridge competition at UMD.

The event was started 20 years ago as a community outreach project by engineers to introduce engineering to students in a fun way. The Duluth Section of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) 20th Annual Toothpick Bridge Competition will be held on Tuesday, February 26 at UMD beginning at 10 am.

The competition is open to all high schools students in the Northeastern Minnesota and Northwestern Wisconsin areas and students from 17 high schools are competing in the year's event.

Last year, over 138 bridges were judged at the competition held in UMD’s Civil Engineering Lab. The competition has been held in the engineering lab since 2011.

“The contest has always been at UMD and has always been a success. It was held in the old Bull Pub of the Kirby Student Center from 1994-2003 and the Fieldhouse from 2004-2010,” says Amy Thorson, the ASCE Duluth Section Toothpick Bridge co-chair. Thorson is an employee of Golder Associates, employee-owned organization that focuses on engineering Earth's development.

"I think it's great that the competition is now held in UMD's Civil Engineering Lab. It gives these high school students a chance to see what UMD engineering has to offer," said Civil Engineering Senior Laboratory Services Coordinator Mark Roberts, who has been involved one way or another with the competition since 2005.

Students have the challenge of making a bridge that weighs less than 90 grams to support the most weight possible. They will also be put up to the challenge of defeating the record holding bridge that weighed less than 90 grams and supported 262.2 pounds. Though bridges are not only judged by their strength. Most aesthetically pleasing, awarded to the bridge selected by the judges as most appealing, and most economical design, awarded to the lightest bridge that holds 10 kilograms, are two other judging categories. There is a first, second, and third prize for each category. Bridges that win first through third receive a plaque. Also, each student of a winning team wins a small trophy.

How every school prepares for the competition is different. “Some have internal competitions to see who comes to UMD. Duluth East has all 400 ninth graders build a bridge, and then brings up to 20 students to UMD. Some schools work on bridges as part of a class science project, others sign up as an extra-curricular activity,” said Thorson.

Since 1994, ASCE and UMD have been giving students the opportunity to show off their engineering skills, and every year the competition has been growing. The first year the competition took place, 15 schools participated with 47 teams. Last year, 14 schools participated with 138 teams. This year will have the most schools and bridges ever seen at ASCE's Toothpick Bridge Competition with 17 schools and 192 registered bridges, making the competition an even bigger success.


students at university of minnesota duluth  
Veronica Newago and Kaytlin Hintz-Knopf from Bayfield took first place in the most economical bridge category in 2012.
students at the univeristy of minnesota duluth  
Anthony Schultz from Bayfield took first place in the strongest bridge category in 2012.












by Jessica Noor, February 2013

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