Students score in engineering competition

ARLINGTON -- Arlington students exemplified engineering skills taught in a class by Karen Schroeder with groups coming in first and second at a statewide competition in Burlington last week.

Fourteen Arlington Memorial Middle and High School students in grades seven through nine took part in in five different competitions at the University of Vermont College of Engineering and Mathematical Sciences Engineers Day. One group came in first in a "Wind Turbine Challenge" and another placed second in a "Pasta Bridges" competition.

The competition attracted teams from 19 schools across the state -- none of which traveled further than Arlington to attend -- and invited students to test their engineering skills. Arlington students spent, in some cases, more than a dozen hours designing and building their enteries outside of class prior to the school's first entry into the competition.

The wind turbine challenge required students to build a wind turbine that could fit inside a 11-inch by 17.5-inch by 10-inch box. The competition was scored by the time it took students to remove the turbine from the box, do any assembly needed, and use the turbine to raise one kilogram of weight one meter. Arlington's team of Katie Berger, Jamie Keel, Gracie Smith and Maggie Smith finished first with a time of just over two minutes -- four minutes better than the second-place team.

The turbine was created out of PVC piping as a frame, a couple of pulleys, gears, spools, string, and was powered by an 18-inch box fan.

"There was a lot of trial and error because we had to use a lot of different combinations with the gears -- big ones and small ones -- and that took a few tries of what would work the best and what would have the fastest time," Keel said.

Keel said the group also did a lot of experimenting with blade shapes to see what design would generate the most power. Another group was tasked with building a 32-inch bridge made entirely of pasta and hot glue. The trick was that bridges could not weigh more than two kilograms and were judged on the ratio of weight each bridge could hold compared to its own weight.

The group from Arlington of Sofie Pedemonti and Jena Staab designed a bridge entirely out of lasagna noodles that weighed the maximum amount at two kilograms and supported 33.3 kilograms, or about 60 pounds.

Staab, an eighth-grader, said the group originally thought of doing a traditional truss bridge bud ended up creating a different design that incorporated trusses.

"We did equilateral triangles the entire length of the bridge because we know triangles are very strong. If you press on them in different ways they still maintain their shape well," Staab said.

The group's first design also incorporated fettuccine because of its light weight, however Staab said she and Pedemonti quickly learned it was too brittle to support much weight. The tradeoff with lasagna noodles, she said, is that while they were much stronger they also weighed more.

"Ours held the most weight, however the competition is judged on weight to strength and ours weighed the most," Staab said.

"Theirs weighed exactly two kilograms. In fact, they had to break off a few pieces of noodle to bring it down," said Schroeder, who was the advisor for all groups who entered the contest.

Going into the competition the group did not know how much the bridge would support as it was the only one they built. They said they were scared to cause damage by testing its weight-bearing ability prior to the competition.

"We decided we were going to kind of wing it, because if we did test it, it would weaken in certain spots and it would be prone to break," Staab said. "I was hoping for about 25 pounds."

This year's competition, held March 7, was the sixth annual Engineers Day held by UVM College of Engineering and Mathematical Science and the Vermont Air National Guard in celebration of National Engineers Week.

Contact Dawson Raspuzzi at or follow on Twitter @DawsonRaspuzzi.


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