Imagine scores of people sitting still and silent, watching sand slowly sift into a bucket, listening for any small cracks or snaps or for a loud crash, finally bursting into cheers.
This was the scene at the eighth annual Bridge Bust Contest on Saturday, Jan. 11. While it was similar to past years, multiple teams kept the audience waiting an extra long time as sand filled the bucket to the brim, breaking all previous weight records.
“For nearly a decade, this Bridge Bust Competition has promoted engineering, creativity, teamwork, communication and sportsmanship,” said Jo Ann Britton, 4-H Youth Development Program coordinator with the University of Illinois Extension. “The goal is to provide area youth and families with a unique way to challenge their brains, work together and learn new things, all while having fun.”
Despite the expected icy weather, teams came out to compete from Aurora, Downers Grove, North Aurora, Oswego, Plano and Yorkville, along with spectators, volunteers and supporters representing DuPage, Kane and Kendall counties. Seventeen teams participated in the 2020 event with 4-H through University of Illinois Extension, and partners Rural King of Plano and Cross Lutheran School in Yorkville.
Of those 17 teams, three broke records for the amount of weight held. Record-breaking, weight-bearing bridges were built by the Zawlocki family of Yorkville, with 62.4 pounds, and two O’Neill Middle School teams of Downers Grove, reaching more than 70 pounds. The Zawlocki team included parents April and Matt, and their children, Trevor, Sophia and Amelia.
“Some of our teams’ bridges not only held the full bucket of sand but additional sand added in other containers!” Britton said. “It was amazing to see the strength of these bridges, which were built only from lightweight balsa wood and wood glue. It shows that design can make all the difference!”
However, holding weight is not enough, as the true top award is for structural efficiency, Britton added. That calculation takes into account the weight of the bridge itself and the equation used provides a structural efficiency rating. The 2020 Overall Structural Efficiency Award went to the Wendorf family of North Aurora with a rating of 488.412. Their bridge – built by Kris Wendorf, his sons Jude and Konrad, and Ken Bragg – held 47 pounds and was the lightest weighing in the category. Kris Wendorf said the project took time and patience from the entire family.
“The bridge building table took over part of the living room for three weeks,” he said, laughing. “We even put a bathroom remodel on hold.” Brothers Jude and Konrad said they were excited to see the bridge do so well. “It lasted a long time.” Konrad said.
The Overall Aesthetics Award went to the Emmert family of Yorkville. Aesthetic scores are based on provided specifications, the quality of craftsmanship, sound structural design and originality. Craig and Magdalena Emmert and their children, Paul, Anna and Eric, have made the Bridge Bust event a family tradition. This year, their bridge featured both vertical and diagonal support and an undercarriage.
Before testing the bridges, the crowd could make paper or linguine bridges at two activity stations led by 4-H Teen Science Ambassadors, and the crowd heard from two guest speakers, highlighting different work in the field of STEM. Jeremy Metz, a surface transportation engineer with CMT, spoke about civil engineering education and options, and shared his own experiences with the crowd. In addition, 4-H alum and University of Illinois student Ethan Heidrich provided an overview of his STEM-related experiences with 4-H and how they helped shape his future.
“4-H allowed me to explore a vast different array of subject matters, which got me hooked on both environmental science and creative design,” said Heidrich, who grew up in Oswego. “These have merged into my interest in environmental and water resources engineering.”
Similarly, he said Bridge Bust allows participants to showcase both STEM understanding and their creative, innovative side. “It also allows them to work with others and to learn from their experiences.”
For weeks, the registered teams designed and built bridges, each with the same provided materials and guidelines. “From start to finish, this project encourages planning, time management, teamwork, communication and sportsmanship, as well as skills in engineering, physics, math and design,” Britton said.
At the end, Bridge Bust participants filled out surveys about what they learned, and one youth said, “I learned how to improve our bridge design by looking at how other bridges broke. I have learned our weaknesses in our bridge, and now know how to improve for next time.” Another said, “I learned to evaluate and adapt,” and several others listed things such as patience, problem-solving, perseverance, dedication, teamwork, listening, respect, sharing ideas and preparation.
2020 Bridge Bust results
Teams compete in multiple divisions, including family, youth, school, and noncompetitive. New this year, was the People’s Choice Award, which went to Bill Nye’s Bridge Builders from O’Neill Middle School in Downers Grove.
Aesthetics Awards: first place, Emmert family of Yorkville; second, Zawlocki family of Yorkville; third, Stewart family of Yorkville. Structural Efficiency Awards: first, Wendorf family of North Aurora, second, Zawlocki family; third, Wyncoop family of Yorkville. Noncompetitive Division: The Schobert family of Yorkville.
Aesthetics Awards: first place, Charlie and Xander Albertson of Yorkville; second, Spanglish 4-H Club of Kendall County; third, Nengi Fredrick and Gauri Venkatraman of Aurora. Structural Efficiency Awards: first, Spanglish 4-H Club; second, Charlie and Xander Albertson of Yorkville; third, Nengi Fredrick and Gauri Venkatraman of Aurora.
Elementary School Division
Aesthetics Awards: first place, Grand Reserve Elementary School Team 2 of Yorkville; second, Grand Reserve Elementary Team 1 of Yorkville. Structural Efficiency Awards: first, Grand Reserve Elementary School Team 2; second, Grand Reserve Elementary Team 1.
Middle School Division
Aesthetics Awards: first place, The Gorillas; second, Sister Squad; third, Bill Nye’s Bridge Builders, all from O’Neill Middle School in Downers Grove. Structural Efficiency Awards: first, Bill Nye’s Bridge Builders; second, The Scribes of Ebeneezer Wheezer; third, The Scribes of Hugh Neutron, all from O’Neill Middle School.
This annual event was sponsored by 4-H and University of Illinois Extension, in partnership with Rural King of Plano and the Cross Lutheran School of Yorkville, and great appreciation to the volunteers, judges and speakers. They include Chris Erickson, Ethan Heidrich, Brian Janus, Jeremy Metz, Austin Naekerts, Jeff Naekerts and Dave Vick.
“We are grateful to our partners, volunteers and guests for making this annual event a great success,” Britton said. “We look forward to the event each year, and enjoy seeing youth and community members enjoy this fun, educational opportunity.”