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Vernier Structure & Materials Tester Used in Nashville Bridge Competition

By Janey Camp, Vanderbilt Engineering Faculty Member and Education Outreach Chair for the Nashville Branch ASCE

On March 3, 2018, the Nashville Branch of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) hosted its 10th Music City Bridge Competition with 54 bridges submitted for qualifications testing and 38 bridges tested to failure. The competition is open to any and all high school students in Middle Tennessee and serves as a qualifying competition for the Illinois Institute of Technology’s International Bridge Building Contest. Winners of the Music City Bridge Competition are based upon a calculated efficiency of how much mass the bridge holds divided by the mass of the bridge.

For the past two years students have used the Vernier Structures & Materials Tester (VSMT) to test their bridges. The VSMT allows students to test bridges faster and easily display the results of bridge performance

Students arrived at the competition with their bass wood bridges completely constructed, and the bridges were checked to see if they qualified to be tested. In the past, testing was conducted by a team of volunteers who helped position a large pan under the loading platform that was then attached to the bridge. Students would add small concrete weights to the pan until the bridge shattered.

Volunteers verify the bridges meet the competition criteria.
Volunteers verify the bridges meet the competition criteria. (Image by Patrick Parker, courtesy of ASCE Nashville Branch)

Now, with the VSMT, students can see when the bridge fails without necessarily destroying the bridge by gradually loading the bridge using the loading wheel at the bottom of the tester. The LabQuest 2 interface and Logger Pro software allowed for calculating the efficiency quickly and accurately, as opposed to manually counting and totaling the concrete weights. The students seem to really enjoy being able to watch the results in real time on the screens projecting the Logger Pro output; comparing when and at what load each others’ bridge broke.

Student applies the load to his bridge.
Student applies the load to his bridge. (Image by Patrick Parker, courtesy of ASCE Nashville Branch)

Thanks to Vernier for their support of the Nashville Branch’s bridge competition!

This year’s winners were:

  • 1st place to Nancy Hoang, Overton High School, Nashville, TN
  • 2nd place to Bryan Galvan, Overton High School, Nashville, TN
  • 3rd place to Kalei Hair and Maria Aguire, Portland High School, Portland, TN
The winners (and friends) of the 2018 Music City Bridge Competition
The winners (and friends) of the 2018 Music City Bridge Competition! (Image by Patrick Parker, courtesy of ASCE Nashville Branch)
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