FLASHBACK: Pupils from La Romaine Secondary won the award for aesthetics with their structure last year.

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Bridging the gap

Design and Build Competition teaches pupils engineering skills

By Kimoy Leon Sing

The Brooklyn Bridge in the United States, one of the longest suspension bridges in the world, was completed in 1883 and connects Manhattan and Brooklyn by spanning the East River.

The Chapel Bridge is the oldest wooden covered bridge in Europe and is also one of Switzerland's main tourist attractions. Constructed in 1333, the Chapel Bridge is a 204-metre (670-foot) bridge crossing the Reuss River in Lucerne, Switzerland.

In Trinidad and Tobago, some of our major bridges include the Cipero Road Bridge, South Highway Extension; the Naparima-Mayaro Road Bridge, South Highway Extension, and the Barataria Interchange Highway.

Though not as grand as the ones previously mentioned, bridges and the use of architecture to bridge gaps between physical obstacles for the purpose of providing an easy passage have been a common practice used by man throughout the ages.

An idea or dream that one person thought of to make a reality has forever changed the landscape and over the years has become, in some cases, a necessity for pedestrians and motorists alike.

With this in mind, the Caribbean Division, now Caribbean Regional Group (CRG) of the Institution of Structural Engineers (IStructE), together with the Association of Professional Engineers of Trinidad and Tobago (APETT) and the University of the West Indies' (UWI) engineering faculty, introduced the Schools Bridge Building Competition.

Giving young minds an opportunity to explore their creativity as well as gather key concepts and information about structural engineering, the Schools Bridge Building Competition has been going strong for the past four years, said Anthony Farrell, chairman of the Schools Bridge Building Competition Committee.

According to Farrell, the first competition in Trinidad was held at the JFK Auditorium at UWI in January 2009. There were also competitions held in Barbados, while Jamaica put on its first competition during the IStructE/JIE conference on Bridges held in September 2010, he said.

Farrell, a former engineer, says he has always been fascinated with architecture and bridge building. An area, he admitted, that is rarely exposed to children to learn about and get involved in.

"The competition is designed to introduce children in Forms Four, Five and Six to engineering and in particular structural engineering. It gives them an idea how to utilise scarce resources in an economic fashion. It also teaches them about teamwork and how to work as a unit while giving them the opportunity to have a fun day. The students also get a chance to interact with practising engineers on the day," he said.

Farrell noted that material used for bridges in previous competitions was a specified amount of foil. The bridges were then loaded to collapse with one-cent coins.

The winner was the bridge that carried the greatest load.

However, later competitions in Trinidad utilised macaroni and Krazy glue as being more realistic for bridge construction, he said.

The winner of the competition was awarded prizes for aesthetics, teamwork and innovation.

Last year, competitors were given a surprise, the structure was changed from a bridge to a tower. However for the 2013 edition, Farrell said they have gone back to the bridge structure.

Farrell said, "This year children would be given an 800g pack of macaroni, five packs of Krazy glue, .7mm nylon string and three and half hours to build on site. There will be a break in between for lunch and then the children would come back and finish their structure."

He said, "Schools have shown tremendous enthusiasm for the competition. In 2012 there were 31 schools entered and 30 actually participated. Schools came from places as diverse as Debe, Gasparillo, Matura and Princes Town. This year there are 43 entries."

A full day of fun, the 2013 Schools Design and Build Competition took place on January 26 at JFK Auditorium in UWI from 9 a.m.

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