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at a glance
Top finishers in Science Central’s Middle School Bridge Design Competition:
First place: Emmett Niemeyer – 0.61-pound bridge held 455 pounds; 3,320 points
Second place: Conner Ray – 0.47-pound bridge held 170 pounds; 2,081 points
Third place: JoLynn Hockemeyer – 0.41-pound bridge held 85 pounds; 1,797 points
Untitled Project

This video is about Middle School Bridge Competition

Photos by Rachel Von | The Journal Gazette
Rick Slayback, left, tests one of the bridges built for Saturday’s competition at Science Central.

Student bridges get a workout

Weather limits participants to single school

Greg Lynch talks with Conner Ray, 13, on how his bridge is doing during the stress test.

When 13-year-old Brad Furhmann found a Popsicle-stick bridge video on YouTube, he figured he was onto something.

“Someone had built a bridge that could hold 1,000 pounds,” he said. “I wanted to do something like that.”

The St. John-Emmanuel Lutheran School seventh-grader didn’t reach his target, but that was OK because the object of Science Central’s Middle School Bridge Design Competition isn’t winning – it’s inspiring future engineers.

“That’s what we want to do,” said Freya Berntson, school and public programs coordinator for Science Central, which hosted the Saturday event in conjunction with the Anthony Wayne Chapter of the Indiana Society of Professional Engineers.

“We want this to be a steppingstone to get them excited about engineering at a young age. It’s good to get them involved early.”

This year’s harsh winter resulted in only students from St. John-Emmanuel Lutheran School participating, officials said. They said students were likely busy with other projects and making up missed assignments.

St. John teacher Sue Sipes was a bit disappointed at the turnout but said her students at the Monroeville school still were able to compete against themselves.

“Yeah, the snow got us,” she said, referring to the fewer than 10 participants. “I’m just glad they got a chance to do it because they worked really hard.”

The St. John students would have competed against each other anyway, but more schools taking part certainly would have, at the very least, broadened the contest’s appeal.

Even so, Emmett Niemeyer reveled in his first-place prize of $60.

“I placed second last year,” the seventh-grader said. “I didn’t know if I’d win, but hoped I would.”

Niemeyer is interested in engineering as a career but isn’t sure which field he’ll pursue.

The contest is open to area middle school students to gauge their engineering, design and creative skills.

Participants are allowed to use up to 200 wooden Popsicle sticks and Elmer’s yellow wood glue to make their bridges, which must span 24 inches.

The goal is for a bridge to be able to bear as much weight as possible with the least amount of deflection or bending. A ratio of the total weight the bridge can hold is divided by the amount of deflection and then divided by the weight of the bridge to determine the winners.

Heather Kurtz wishes they had the contest when she was in school.

“We had to use toothpicks. Can you believe that?” the 38-year-old the mother of two said. “If I could have used Popsicle sticks, I might have won back then.”