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Mizzou Engineering team wins national competition

Seismic bridge team members Jeremiah Kasinger, left, and Sean Collier, center, fasten their bridge to a testing stand under the supervision of competition organizer Juan Caicedo. Photo courtesy of Juan Caicedo

Mizzou Engineering’s seismic design team has won its first outing in a national seismic design competition.

MU’s three-member team won a $500 prize July 29 by taking top honors in a first-time competition sponsored by the Federal Highway Administration, the Transportation Research Board, the South Carolina Department of Transportation and the Multidisciplinary Center for Earthquake Engineering Research. Four other teams from across the nation were selected to compete in the contest, held during the 6th National Seismic Conference on Bridges and Highways in Charleston, South Carolina.

“Winning this contest tells us we’re on the right track and makes us even more enthusiastic to keep competing,” said Team Captain Matthew Wheeler, a civil engineering sophomore.

The University of Colorado at Boulder earned second place at the competition, and Oregon State University took third place, said competition organizer Juan Caicedo, a University of South Carolina assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering.

Each student team competed to build the most earthquake-resistant model bridge using the fewest K’nex pieces possible. Judges scored the bridges on the amount of material used, which corresponded to construction cost, as well as on their ability to withstand weight and shaking. Construction time also played into the final score.

Wheeler attributed Mizzou’s win to the relatively small number of K’nex pieces—168—the team used to build its 6.5-foot long bridge. To reflect real-world priorities, Wheeler said team members focused on keeping their entry’s “cost” as low as possible while meeting safety standards.

“You identify exactly what needs to be done, and you do that without compromising safety,” he said.

The team, which also includes civil engineering sophomores Sean Collier and Jeremiah Kasinger, plans to continue competing. Though the seismic conference isn’t slated to hold another competition until 2010, Mizzou’s team will seek out other contests in hopes of extending its winning streak, Wheeler said.

“We learn a great deal about engineering while competing,” Wheeler said. “It really helps us learn how engineering works, from the recognition of a problem to its solution.”