MSUM hosts 40th annual toothpick bridge competition

by Emily Meester

meesterem@mnstate.edu

One toothpick might not look like much, but glue a bunch together the right way, and they can eventually hold more than 100 pounds.

It was discovered by some at the toothpick bridge building competition sponsored by the Fargo-Moorhead Engineers Club and MSUM last Wednesday in the CMU ballroom.

The competition was open to grades 1-12, as well as the college level. The goal was simple: build a small bridge using nothing but toothpicks and white or woodworking glue.

Before coming to the event, students would spend time building their bridges and making sure they also met height, length and width requirements. After these were checked at the beginning of the competition, students would bring their bridges up to the stage and load them with weights to see how much they could hold as parents, family and friends watched in the audience.

After a bridge breaks, the total weight is divided by the weight of the structure to find out the ending strength ratio of the bridge. This means a strong bridge that weighs less than a stronger bridge could still win because its strength ratio is larger.

There were cash prizes for the top three bridges, as well as for the next strongest bridge in each class (elementary, middle and high school and college levels). There was also a prize for the bridge with the best overall appearance.

The event is a way for students to experiment with scientific properties while having fun and engaging in friendly competition. For older students, it’s a way to test knowledge and research skills to find out what type of bridge will be able to hold the most weight.

It also gives students of all levels a chance to collaborate on building a successful bridge, and acquire the teamwork skills necessary for deciding what kind of bridge to build and how to go about crafting it. Even loading the weights required skillful maneuvering, as some of the older teams would quickly pass weights from one person to another in order to get the bridge to sustain the most weight possible before breaking.

When a bridge breaks, the weights often go forward and fall off the stage or shoot backward and have to be dodged by the students. To make the contest safer for the contestants, its sponsors are currently exploring alternative ways to load weight, perhaps through a hydraulic or mechanical device for contestants to use to apply pressure to their bridges. This way, students will still be able to see how much of a load their bridges can withstand while making the application of that weight safer for students and maintaining a fun competition.

All in all, this toothpick bridge building competition is an event for students to engage in friendly competition, learn important teamwork skills and compete across several student districts. And of course for supporters, it’s a blast to watch.

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