Students to test bridge designs in contest
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Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News
Port Angeles High School sophomore Jessica Zhu, left, examines her Popsicle-stick bridge as junior Madison Kuss checks a portable scale for its weight on Wednesday.

By Jeremy Schwartz
Peninsula Daily News

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PORT ANGELES — The Popsicle-stick bridges designed and built by three Port Angeles High School students will be judged and tested in a regional competition in Seattle on Saturday.

The 18th annual Popsicle Stick Bridge Competition will pit between 30 and 40 high school students from the Puget Sound area against each other in a test of engineering ingenuity and creativity.

The annual Seattle contest, which is sponsored by the Seattle Section of the American Society of Civil Engineers Younger Member Forum, will be from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the William M. Allen Theater at the Museum of Flight, 9404 E. Marginal Way S.

Bridge testing will begin at about 9:45 a.m. Winners will be announced at noon, according to the Museum of Flight website at

The three Port Angeles students — senior Kelley Mayer and sophomores Erin Rice and Simon Shindler — were chosen last Wednesday from a record number of eight students at the high school who had completed their bridges, said Port Angeles High School physics teacher Derek Johnson, the competitors' adviser.

Although only three are competing for prizes, all eight can attend and have their bridges tested, and all are eligible for $500, $300 or $200 in scholarship money pooled by a coalition of Port Angeles engineering firms.

“Every bridge goes, every bridge gets tested, and every one of them is still in competition for our local scholarship,” Johnson told the students gathered Wednesday in his classroom.

Engineer examination

Four professional Port Angeles engineers poked, prodded and examined the bridges, made from wooden Popsicle sticks and white glue Wednesday.

“The quality of workmanship is just excellent, and I can't give you guys enough props for that,” said Chris Hartman, the director of engineering for the Port of Port Angeles and one of the local engineers advising the students.

At the contest, the bridges, which can be no longer than 26 inches, will be judged and then tested to failure with a hydraulic press.

The seemingly fragile bridges often can stand up to hundreds of pounds of weight.

Three Port Angeles High School students finished in the top five at last year's regional competition; then-senior Lance Anderson secured first place with a bridge design that withstood 386 pounds.

Mayer, a four-year veteran of the informal bridge-building program at Port Angeles High School, said she won second place as a part of a team her sophomore year with a bridge that withstood 240 pounds of pressure.

Judging points

The bridges will be judged on how cleanly they have been constructed in addition to how they are engineered, which Mayer said is the most challenging part for her.

“The aesthetic part is easy, but the engineering is the hard part,” Mayer said.

Gene Unger — a former public works director for Clallam County and current owner of his own Port Angeles-based firm — has volunteered for the program since 2000.

He said he loves sharing his passion for designing and engineering bridges with the students, who spend months of their own time learning about what makes real-life bridges work.

“We have fun letting them learn about structures and how they hold things up,” Unger said.


Reporter Jeremy Schwartz can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5074, or at

Last modified: February 07. 2013 6:03PM
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