Ridgefield Students Build Bridges

Building bridges teaches students in the Ridgefield School District how to utilize physics and engineering to create aesthetically-attractive structures that can stand up to incredible strength tests.

At the high school, community members volunteer to help students in Janie Call’s physics class design high-strength bridges using only balsa wood and popsicle sticks. “The bridge-building project teaches students problem-solving as we look at elasticity, compression, tension, and scaling,” said Call. “Students learn a lot about what goes into constructing any type of structure.”

Bridges are judged for three criteria: aesthetics, strongest, and strength-to-weight. A load cell with a digital readout provided by Talbot and Associates Engineering in Portland tests the strength of each bridge by pushing a weight into the bridge before the bridge buckles.

To calculate strength-to-weight, a judge weighs each bridge, and then divides the maximum load by the weight of the bridge. “This comparison shows how one bridge was stronger by design as it used fewer materials,” said Tevis Laspa, a community volunteer. The winning bridge supported over 400 pounds of weight while weighing only 9 ounces!

Laspa organized the project three years ago when his son took physics, and has been organizing it every year since. “I thought it might be fun to develop a project that would give real hands-on experience,” said Laspa. In addition to helping out, Laspa donates the funds used to purchase the materials for the project.

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