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L-W North students put physics lessons to work at bridge building contest

Senior Brennan Nemec wins competition with a bridge that weighed 24.85 grams (about the mass of five nickels) and held 43.08 kilograms (about 95 pounds).

One by one, Lincoln-Way North High School students put their physics lessons to the test, adding weight to their homemade basswood bridges until they splintered.

The goal was to determine efficiency and who built the strongest, yet lightest bridge.

“That was nerve-racking,” said junior Anna Sendra after watching her bridge, which weighed in at 24.88 grams, break apart under 13 kilograms of weight.

“I was so scared,” she added. “I kept thinking: `It’s going to break; it’s going to break’ as I added each weight.”

It was sentiment echoed by a number of Lincoln-Way North students as they put their basswood bridges to the test. Some were disappointed by their results; others were elated.

A few expressed relief when their bridges withstood the weight of the mechanism (a board and chains) used to hold the weights.

“I tried to keep (my bridge) as light as possible,” said junior Alex Zaplatosch. “That way it would have more efficiency.”

Just over 95 students and faculty members, including 76 physics students, 16 engineering students, and four teachers, participated in the competition after school on Dec. 11. Students were challenged to design and build a model bridge from basswood that would hold significant weight.

Efficiency was determined by weighing each bridge and then attaching weights – one at a time – until the bridge broke. The equation for efficiency is the mass held divided by the mass of the bridge.

This year, first place went to Brennan Nemec. His bridge had a mass of 24.85 grams (about the mass of five nickels) and held 43.08 kilograms (about 95 pounds). Second place went to David Smith; third place went to Katie Shatkus; and fourth place went to Colin Lietz.

Principal Michael Gardner and Associate Principal Mark Cohen submitted a bridge that weighed in at 11.16 grams and held 10 kilograms. Science teacher Michael Murphy submitted a bridge that weighed 24.85 grams but held 60.1 kilograms (about 132 pounds).

Only the top four students are entitled, however, to represent Lincoln-Way North at the Regional Bridge Building Competition, which will be held Feb. 25 at the Illinois Institute of Technology.

Teacher Michael Murphy, who organized this year’s local competition with teachers Wes Cooley, Dan Moore and Matt Nemeth, said he was impressed with the quality of bridges built this year and the number of students who participated in the competition.

“This was the fifth year of the contest at Lincoln-Way North, and the students did a great job in participation and effort,” said Murphy. “It is great to see the students work on projects outside of the classroom that relate to topics learned in the classroom.

“It was obvious from their designs and results that many students devoted a lot of hard work and time into this project,” he added. “I think the most rewarding part of this project is to hear the students talk the next day about what they could do differently next year to increase the efficiency of their bridges. It seems that this project sparks the creativity of a lot of students and fosters hard work and creativity.”

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