Breaking bridges: High schoolers in Engineering Innovation program compete in annual spaghetti bridge competition

July 26, 2019

Hold the tomato sauce. Last week on the university’s Homewood campus, high school engineering students served up their spaghetti with a big helping of glue.

The 11th annual Spaghetti Bridge Competition challenged participants in the four-week Johns Hopkins Engineering Innovation precollege program to design and construct the strongest possible miniature bridge out of only dry pasta and epoxy. On Friday morning, the students’ families, faculty members, and staff gathered in Hodson Hall and Shaffer Hall to see which team’s bridge could hold the most weight (added slowly, kilo by kilo) before shattering.

Offered by Whiting School of Engineering’s Center for Educational Outreach, Engineering Innovation was held this summer at 15 sites from Maryland to California. The program’s participants—rising high school juniors and seniors—attend college-level lectures, solve problems, test theories, and, ultimately, learn to think like engineers.

This year, more than 500 students took part across the country, with 189 students spending the summer at JHU.

Amy Wang, who traveled to Baltimore from Connecticut to attend the program, said she and her fellow team members were surprised by how challenging it was to build with something as simple as spaghetti.

“In our labs, we learned that spaghetti is stronger in tension and weaker in compression. For our bridge, we wanted all the beams in compression to be bigger and stronger. But working with sticky glue and dry spaghetti is not as easy as it seems—spaghetti is pretty unforgiving!” said Wang.

Working with the pasta certainly put all of the students’ problem-solving skills to the test. Some bridge designs were tall and intricate; others were short and simple. Most students opted for a truss bridge design, which relies on connecting triangles to support heavy loads. While a few bridges collapsed as soon as the students attached the first weight, most bridges were able to support a considerable amount of weight, much to the crowd’s amazement.

At the Homewood competition on Friday, Mohammad Al-Makhamil, Moayad Alsalhi, Thomas Kiely, and Eric Zhang of Team Piggiest Bard (an anagram for Spaghetti Bridge) emerged the victors, with their bridge holding an impressive weight of 46 kg, or 101 pounds.

Read the full recap on The Hub >>

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