Students Test Physics Laws by Destroying Bridges at So. NV Model Bridge Contest at UNLV

Reclamation employees assist with contest coordination

Media Contact: Paul Matuska, 702-293-8164
Steve Leon, 702-293-8456

For Release: March 04, 2005

Did you ever build a model airplane, a gingerbread house, a ship in a bottle, or anything where a great deal of skill and attention to detail was needed, then give it to someone else so they could break it -- on purpose?

On Saturday, March 5, hundreds of students from more than 50 local elementary, junior, and senior high schools will do just that. They showcase the results of many weeks of planning, and the application of design, artistic and bridge construction concepts, and demonstrate the laws of physics as they enthusiastically submit their wooden model bridges for crushing destruction at the 12th Annual Southern Nevada Regional Student Model Bridge Building Contest.

An educational activity held at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas (UNLV) Thomas T. Beam Engineering Complex, the contest is sponsored by the Bureau of Reclamation's Lower Colorado Region working with the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) in coordination with the Clark County School District (CCSD). It also involves engineers from various firms and organizations as well as students from the UNLV College of Engineering.

At the competition, judges test the load-bearing capacity of each individual's and team's entry. They do this by compressing it to the point of failure with mechanical equipment that uses increasing calibrated pressure to simulate weight and determine the load capacity and efficiency of each bridge. This is calculated by dividing the total weight the bridge supports before failing by the weight of the bridge.

Contest specifications require all entries in the model bridge building contest to be designed and constructed according to strict standards. The students can use only the 3/32-inch square cross-section basswood included in the kits supplied to the schools by the sponsors. The wood may be notched, cut or laminated in any manner, and fastened with any commonly available glue. But no other materials may be used in the bridge's construction.

Other restrictions are that the bridge mass/weight must not exceed 25 grams (just under one ounce); the finished bridge must span a distance of 300 millimeters (about 12.5 inches); the maximum length cannot exceed 400 mm (about 16.5 inches); the maximum height is 120 mm (about 5 inches); and the maximum width must be 80 mm (about 3 inches). In past competitions bridges designed to these specifications have been tested to pressures equivalent to weights as high as 250 pounds.

In addition to having their bridges tested at the competition, participants will have an opportunity to view engineering displays and tour the university's engineering complex. Awards will be presented to the top three winners in each of the Elementary, Middle, and High School Divisions at the ASCE annual banquet scheduled in late spring.

Joining Reclamation, the ASCE, and the CCSD as sponsors of this educational activity are the Clark County School District, UNLV, the Clark County Public Works Department, and local engineering firms.

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Reclamation is the largest wholesale water supplier and the second largest producer of hydroelectric power in the United States, with operations and facilities in the 17 Western States. Its facilities also provide substantial flood control, recreation, and fish and wildlife benefits. Visit our website at and follow us on Twitter @USBR.