Engineering the Future with Popsicle Sticks

The 17th annual Popsicle Stick Bridge Competition attracts hundreds of students throughout Southern California

Josh Svensson

Sometimes Popsicle sticks are more than a wealth of knee-slappers.

On Friday, the public is invited to watch as Southern California's brainiest students participate in a series of activities that culminate with the main event: the Popsicle Stick Bridge Competition.

The American Society of Civil Engineers' Younger Member Forum will host the event, in its 17th year, at the University of Southern California as a precursor to National Engineers Week.

More than 250 high school students representing more than 63 teams are registered to compete for professional engineers acting as judges for the day.

Josh Svensson, who is a co-chair of the event, an ASCE member and a civil engineer for Los Angeles County, said many of these students have never set foot on a college campus before.

According to the official rules, the teams must do the research, design and construction prior to the event. At USC, each team will present the judges with a written report, display board and five-minute oral presentation. Then the judges test the bridges using a hydraulic press that applies pressure to the bridges until they collapse. Winning teams are selected based on four categories: strength, design aesthetics, presentation and the technical report.

Other rules: The bridges can only be constructed of white glue and cannot weigh more than 1 pound.

This year, using Los Angeles' 6th Street Bridge as a model, the students were asked to construct arch bridges.

The winning teams win a scholarship in the form of a cash prize, ranging in past years from a couple of hundred dollars to more than $1,000.

In the past, one bridge was able to support approximately 3,000 pounds, Svensson said.

The organizers hope the students will also walk away wanting to pursue civil engineering.

"We're excited about promoting the engineering profession to these kids. It's not 'CSI' or 'Law & Order'; there's not a lot of civil engineers on TV. It's not a particularly glamorous profession, but it's a rewarding one," Svennson said.

The opening ceremony will begin at 8 a.m. at USC's Town and Gown building.

More information is available online.

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