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CoE geotechnical team builds on its success in national competition

MU geotechnical engineering team members, from left, Hendrik Schoeman, Daniel Kuhn, Daniel Huaco and Bradley Koester, designed and built the strongest retaining wall during a national civil engineering competition in Denver, Colo.

Overcoming a last–minute change in design requirements, the CoE geotechnical engineering team recently won a national competition for the second time in three years.

“We felt it was a great accomplishment to win again,” said graduate student Daniel Huaco, a member of both winning teams. “I just wanted to make our program look good.”

Mizzou Engineering defeated five other teams from across the country to take first place in the Geo-Institute of the American Society of Civil Engineers’ retaining wall-building competition on Feb. 21 in Denver, Colo. MU’s team also won the institute’s last wall-building competition, held in 2005.

Each team strove to build the strongest wall—with the least amount of reinforcement—out of poster board and craft paper. MU’s team took first place by building a wall that held 50 pounds with only 45 square inches of craft paper reinforcement.

A competition glitch made the contest considerably more challenging than anticipated by diminishing the holding power of the wall’s poster board. Organizers cut poster boards with one–inch fold–backs on each side rather than the two–inch fold–backs students expected due to a misunderstanding, said Robert B. Gilbert, competition organizer and a civil engineering professor at the University of Texas at Austin.

“What I personally appreciated about the change is that it is not uncommon for a contractor to interpret a specification differently than the engineer who wrote it,” Gilbert said. “Therefore, the students inadvertently got some real-world experience in civil engineering.”

That experience had the MU team nervous, Huaco said. When the MU wall topped out at 50 pounds—rather than holding more than 150 pounds, as it did under the original design requirements—Huaco said he feared Mizzou Engineering would not win the contest.
While MU’s wall design ultimately proved itself the strongest, team members nonetheless determined to consider revising their design.

The Mizzou geotechnical engineering team will compete again during the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) regional conference. The ASCE regional geotechnical competition will be held April 27 at the University of Kansas.