Science Olympiads Put Bridges to the Test

Students from the Science Olympiad team at Hamilton Middle School in Madison, Wis. had a unique opportunity to experience the Forest Products Laboratory’s (FPL) testing equipment first hand. FPL’s Engineering Mechanics and Remote Sensing Laboratory is equipped with machines that can perform load tests, including specimen compression, bending, and shear. Such tests can come in handy when one is attempting to design a strong, lightweight structure.


Bridge test in progress.

FPL engineers and technicians have been offering guidance to the team for the bridge building event, one of many events that the students compete in. The goal of the event is to build the lightest wooden bridge that can still hold a maximum weight of 15 kilograms.


Students examine their bridge design after testing.

FPL engineers met with the team before they designed their bridges, explaining stresses within bridges they might want to consider, and then tested one of several designs assembled by the team. Witnessing the testing in person allowed the students to see how their bridge deformed under the load of the testing machine and to make decisions about how they could improve their design.

The four-student team will be competing for the Wisconsin state title on March 14, 2015. Hamilton Middle School has won the state title for the past five years in a row and is hoping for a sixth consecutive victory, sending them to Nationals in May.