Villanovans work to build bridge

Jacqueline Lebowitz

On April 23 and 24, the Villanova Bridge Team will enter their 21.5 foot bridge in a regional competition held at Johns Hopkins University. The team must start from scratch to design and fabricate, in pieces, an entirely new bridge.

The competition is held regionally held but is under the jurisdiction of the National American Society of Civil Engineers, the sponsor of the national competition. The top two teams from the regional competition will move on to the national competition held in Orlando, Fla.

There is strong competition in Villanova’s division which includes schools such as Drexel, Penn State, University of Delaware, Lehigh and Lafayette. Some of these schools have a longer history with the program and more experience with the competition as well as access to more comprehensive tools and machines.

Villanova’s Bridge Team has struggled to attract members because of the enormous amount of time and dedication involved and, as a result, has a very small team.

It is also a young team, made up of mostly freshmen; the two oldest members and co-captains are Juniors Brian Sensi and Steven Wallin. Armed with a 30-page rule book with about 1,000 rules, an entirely new design and minimal experience in the lab, Sensi and Wallin have made great improvements in the program.

Both Sensi and Wallin worked on last year’s bridge and have taken their design a step farther. By adding an arch, their single-span bridge will be a creative addition that will be aesthetically beneficial and efficient. They chose this design because an arch uses the least amount of material and it will hold the most amount of weight.

The judges will assess the bridges using a number of different criteria. First is the aesthetic competition in which the bridge is judged on how it looks.

Second is the construction time on site. The bridge, made up of numerous pieces of metal that may not exceed 3.5 feet, must be put together at the competition. There are also rules that restrict the number of people that can be holding a piece of metal at a given time and the path they take to put it together.

Third, the frame is tested with 50 pound weights that are added until the 2,500 pound vertical load is reached. The judges also measure the displacement of the bridge using a computer. Even the slightest deviation from the two inches allowed is grounds for disqualification. Fourth, the bridge must also pass a horizontal load and resist a 50 pound load without a deflection or displacement greater than 1 inch. Fifth, the bridge is finally weighed.

In short, the goal is to create the lightest bridge that holds the most weight and moves the least when the weights are added that simulates and is in proportion to a real world bridge.

Before construction of the bridge started, no one on the team knew how to use the computer programs needed to design the bridge and no one had ever welded before. It was difficult at first for the freshmen to keep up, since they did not have as much knowledge as the upperclassmen. Now, however, everyone helps with the fabrication which they do themselves at the University, including the freshmen who have put forth a great amount of time under their captains.

Sensi says that he spends a few hours a day working on the bridge. Some of the benefits hard work offer him are “a large amount of experience, managerial skills, design and programs.”

Sensi says that it is fun to take something that is learned in the classroom and apply it to a real-life situation and actually see how the different principles work out. For him, the satisfaction of completing the bridge is what motivates him.

“Brian and Steve have worked on the bridge in a level that has not been worked on before,” says Dr. Joseph Yost, faculty advisor to the bridge team. “The design is innovative and the result is due to Brian and Steve.”

Yost meets with the team to discuss the generalities of the bridge. The first competition he attended, and the first one Villanova participated in was 1999.

Students involved with the bridge team spend an enormous amount of time in a lab with a welder, bolts and steel, as well as the time spent in front of a screen designing the bridge. The amount of time devoted to this substantial project should not be underestimated.

Yost believes that the competition is valuable to the students who participate. “They learn the theory and terminology; how members behave and how to construct an economical, constructible and strong bridge,” says Yost.

The students also have fun with the project. “I enjoy it because you don’t usually get an opportunity to put things you learn in the classroom into practice,” says Wallin. “We have the freedom to use any design and it’s cool to see something that you designed on your computer built and tested.”