Competitions / Hardware / Universities

Tandon undergrads advance to nationals for smartly engineered projects

Forget debate club, these undergrads built a bridge in 18 minutes and a canoe made out of concrete.

The Tandon team's concrete canoe. (Courtesy photo)

Two NYU Tandon School of Engineering teams are advancing to the national finals in their respective competitions this month after assembling some cleverly designed projects.
Listening to Julia Langewis, co-captain of the school’s Steel Bridge Competition team, can put one at ease when thinking about the future of our nation’s infrastructure.
“There are certain height specs in the competition,” she said. “[The bridge can be] a maximum of five feet tall and each piece has to be three feet [long]. It has to support a static load of 2,400 pounds and we’re judged on how fast it takes to assemble, how much your bridge moves and how many builders you had.”

The NYU-colored bridge that won the Tandon team a spot in the national tournament.

The NYU-colored bridge that won the Tandon team a spot in the national tournament. (Courtesy photo)

Though the team is large, they went with four builders on competition day and assembled the bridge in 18 minutes and 30 seconds. Langewis worked with the previous year’s captain to get a basic design and then the team went to work tinkering with it and improving it. The team modeled the bridge in a software program and brought the design to some professors, who offered advice on where there might be stress points and what might need reinforcing.
The national finals of the Steel Bridge Competition are May 27-28 at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. It’s the first time in the school’s history that an NYU engineering team has made the national finals.
“We’re going to modify it a little bit,” Langewis said. “We have some areas we need to get fixed, we had some penalties so we’re going back into the lab and putting in a little more work.”


Not to be outdone, another Tandon team won their regional competition and will also advance to the nationals. Co-captain Cliff Cheng led his classmates in the ASCE Concrete Canoe Challenge, building a 20-foot long canoe made out of concrete and carbon-fiber mesh.

“Usually when people think of concrete they think of pavement, which is super dense,” Cheng explained. But the team mixed in recycled glass on the outside of the canoe and a lightweight concrete with air bubbles in it on the inside. The mixture was a clever way to reduce the density of the boat’s materials and also make it look shiny and cool.

The NYU concrete canoe. (Courtesy photo)

The NYU concrete canoe. (Courtesy photo)

“Flotation comes from the amount of fluid you displace, and because the canoe is so big it displaces enough water, which is the same reason ships made of steel are still able to float,” Cheng said.

A new rule in the competition this year was that teams were not allowed to use paint to decorate their canoes. But the clever undergrads figured that as a replacement, they could mix into the concrete colored compounds to achieve a similar result.

“We found these various minerals to add into the concrete so we had a colored concrete mix,” Cheng said. “We had a white, which is titanium oxide. All different types of metals. The other thing we tested out was embossing. We made these stencils and filled them with colored concrete and you would have different levels to the pigment so we had different stencils and made koi fish.”

Now that’s ingenuity.

The final competition will take place in June in the exceptionally well-named city of Tyler, Texas.

Companies: NYU Tandon School of Engineering
Series: Brooklyn

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