Ward Melville Student Wins Brookhaven's 2019 Bridge Contest

Group photo from the 2019 Regional Model Bridge Building Contest enlarge

Brookhaven Lab's Office of Educational Programs hosted an awards ceremony on March 15 to recognize the winners of the 2019 Regional Model Bridge Building Contest. OEP science educators Susan Frank (left) and Michele Darienzo (right) run the annual competition with the help of Brookhaven Lab engineers, including retired engineer Marty Woodle (center), who has been volunteering since the competition first started 40 years ago. This year, first place went to 11th grader Justin Zhang (not in attendance) of Ward Melville High School, second to 9th grader Gary Nepravishta (second from right) of Division Avenue High School, and third to 12th grader William Musumeci of Smithtown High School East.

UPTON, NY—Justin Zhang, a junior at Ward Melville High School in East Setauket, won first place in the 2019 Model Bridge Building Contest at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory.

In this annual regional competition—coordinated by Brookhaven Lab’s Office of Educational Programs (OEP) —high-school students across Long Island, New York, design, construct, and test model bridges made of basswood that are intended to be simplified versions of real-world bridges. Participants must apply physics and engineering principles to meet a stringent set of specifications. Their bridges are judged based on efficiency, which is calculated using the weight of the bridge and the amount of weight it can support before breaking or bending more than one inch. A separate award is given to the student with the most aesthetic design.

A video of a bridge being crushed during the judging round. enlarge

A video of a bridge being crushed during the judging round.

For this year’s competition, 132 students from 15 high schools registered bridges. Fifty-two students representing nine schools qualified.

An awards ceremony to honor the winners was held at Brookhaven Lab on March 15.

Following a brief introduction to the contest by Susan Frank—an OEP science educator who runs the competition with fellow science educator Michele Darienzo—OEP Manager Kenneth White provided examples illustrating the critical role that engineering plays at Brookhaven Lab.    

“One of the engineering feats that fascinates me the most is the transport of the muon g-2 ring from Brookhaven to Fermilab in Illinois in 2013,” said White. “Engineers had to design a way to delicately package this approximately 60-foot-wide electromagnet and move it by truck and ship without letting it flex more than one-eighth of an inch. Bridge building develops these kind of skills.”

DOE Brookhaven Site Office Communications Director John Carter discussed the importance of STEM education at Brookhaven and within the DOE as a whole. David Manning, director of Brookhaven’s Stakeholder and Community Relations Office, encouraged students to consider engineering careers.

Their remarks were followed by the presentation of the awards.

Justin Zhang enlarge

Justin Zhang

Zhang, whose bridge weighed 12.75 grams and had an efficiency of 2819.03, was unable to attend the ceremony because he was participating in the New York State Science Olympiad. Zhang’s father accepted the award on his behalf.

“I had built bridges, towers, and, more recently, boomilevers (kind of like the arm at the end of a crane) as a participant on my school’s Science Olympiad team and I really love civil engineering,” said Zhang. “So, the Bridge Building Contest perfectly fit both my past experience and interests. Through the competition, I was able to improve upon the ideas that I had developed in years prior working on engineering challenges and apply some new things that I had learned. It was particularly challenging for me to adjust to all the specific rules involved in the construction process. I wished that I had the chance to go to the awards ceremony and speak with the other competitors and learn from the engineers and scientists at Brookhaven.”

Gary Nepravishta, a freshman at Division Avenue High School in Levittown, took second place with his bridge weighing 18.2 grams and having an efficiency of 1949.45.

“I participated in Science Olympiad in middle school and won two medals for building things,” said Nepravishta. “I am very interested in the STEM [science, technology, engineering, and mathematics] fields, and I knew about the Bridge Building Contest because my brother had participated.”

With a mass of 13.88 grams and efficiency of 1598.68, the bridge built by senior William Musumeci of Smithtown High School East won third place.

“I have a background in woodworking, and I learned about the competition in my physics class at school,” said Musumeci, who will be attending Farmingdale University to study construction engineering. “I built one bridge and tested it to see where it broke, and then I used a computer-aided design program to make a stronger bridge.”

Sophomore Benjamin Farina of John Glenn High School in Elwood won the aesthetic award for best-looking bridge.

Kenneth White and Marty Woodle enlarge

OEP Manager Kenneth White presents retired Brookhaven Lab engineer Marty Woodle with an honorary award given in appreciation of his 40 years supporting the contest.

An honorary award was given to retired Brookhaven Lab engineer Marty Woodle, who was recognized for his 40 years of service as a volunteer for the competition. Woodle recounted how he spent his early career building the Saturn I booster for Apollo, designing and testing underwater grabbers and other submarine components, and developing cryogenic piping systems that carry liquefied natural gas onto ship tanks. He then described his long career as a mechanical engineer at Brookhaven Lab’s National Synchrotron Light Source (NSLS), a former DOE Office of Science User Facility that has since been replaced by NSLS-II.

“If you become an engineer, you are not necessarily trapped into one little aspect of science,” said Woodle. “The world is open to you to do some really fascinating work.”

The bridges of the two top winners have been entered into the 2019 International Bridge Building Contest, to be held in Baltimore, Maryland, in early April.

Brookhaven National Laboratory is supported by the Office of Science of the U.S. Department of Energy. The Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States, and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, please visit science.energy.gov.

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