InTrans / Nov 27, 2023

Success takes shape at annual Bridge-Building Challenge

Abdalla Alomari, judge and bridge research engineer with the Bridge Engineering Center, oversees students erecting a bridge during the 2023 Ready, Set, Build! Bridge-Building Challenge

Whether they were building an arch, suspension, or truss bridge, participants of this year’s Ready, Set, Build! Bridge-Building Challenge braced for fierce competition.

The 2023 Challenge began on November 3 at the Science Center of Iowa, in Des Moines, bringing in 50 teams with over 150 students from across Iowa to participate in the two-day event.

But what does it take to build a bridge? That’s what participants quickly learned in this ultimate test of structure, strength, and style. The Bridge-Building Challenge sets teams against the clock, as they only have 2.5 hours to build a bridge out of materials like Popsicle sticks, wooden dowels, masking tape, glue, string, and poster board.

Although design and efficiency play a key role in building a successful bridge, to win the Bridge-Building Challenge, teamwork is also needed.

“Teamwork is essential in any bridge project—big or small,” said Brent Phares, judge and bridge research engineer with the Bridge Engineering Center at the Institute for Transportation (InTrans).

Throughout the competition, students had the opportunity to interact with engineering professionals from the Iowa Department of Transportation (DOT) and Iowa State University’s (ISU’s) InTrans to learn more about bridges and other transportation-related topics. The Bridge-Building Challenge uses real science while teaching students about the engineering design process—a series of steps used by real engineers to come up with solutions to a problem.

This annual event was first held in 2015 with only 24 teams. It continues to be sponsored by the Iowa DOT and supported by ISU 4U Promise, which helps prepare students for college who come from communities with historically lower attendance or academic success in higher education.

Teams from the 2023 Challenge “built their dreams” while taking home awards in teamwork, innovation, and highest structural efficiency.

Abdalla Alomari and Zhengyu Liu, judges and bridge research engineers with the Bridge Engineering Center, conduct load testing of student-built bridges during the 2023 Ready, Set, Build! Bridge-Building Challenge