The best Popsicle bridge in Washington
June 11, 2008 · Updated 11:23 AM
"Like Spartacus, who led a slave revolt against his Roman rulers, the bridge that bears his name stood up against all odds.The bridge, made of Popsicle sticks and Elmer's glue and weighing less than one pound, withstood 2,068 pounds of pressure and did not break. The mechanical arm judges used to test structures for strength maxed out during a recent statewide competition, and the Olympic High School team that built it took first place. Another Olympic bridge withstood 1,760 pounds and placed second. The third-place bridge, built by students from another school, withstood only 601 pounds before shattering.Barbara Kornas, a chemistry and physics teacher at Olympic and advisor to the Junior Engineering Technical Society (J.E.T.S.), said she thinks the first-place bridge set a national record, but she must wait for data from other schools to be sure. It's been our goal to max the machine out and we finally did it this year, said Jeffrey Rich, a senior at Olympic who has participated in the contest for three years.The J.E.T.S. team of 11 Olympic students, five boys and six girls, built the humble-looking structures at after-school meetings and in their homes. They began meeting in September and started building structures by October. By late December, they were building contest models.The secret of our success is getting an early start in the year so we can try out different designs and analyze results, said Katie Henry, a junior J.E.T.S. member. The school has sent teams to the Popsicle bridge building competition, sponsored by the American Society of Civil Engineers, for the last five years. The team has placed first or second in each of the last four years, earning the school a reputation for success.When we go to this competition all the other schools say 'Oh, no, Olympic's here again,' Kornas said. She added that students from other schools usually take photos of the team's bridges to use as models.J.E.T.S. students have the opportunity to take what they learn in physics class and put it to practical use - and they have fun doing it.I took physics for two years and that really helped, Rich said. We studied force, stress and strains - mainly on human bones, but it can be applied here.The contest is guided by stringent rules that change annually to prevent teams from using the same bridge design two years in a row. This year, bridges had to be at least 24 inches long and six inches tall. There are rules that govern how much glue can be used on each Popsicle stick and the structure must weigh less than 400 grams (one pound equals 454 grams).Spartacus weighed in at 398.6 grams.The Olympic team found creative ways to bend the rules to its advantage. Members bake contest bridges in an oven at 200 degrees to fuse the glue and wood and reduce the weight of the structure. Using tiny drills and whittled-down Popsicle sticks, pins are inserted into the structure. This was the first year we didn't have to change anything at the last minute. We passed all the qualifications the first time, said junior Becky Jose.At the contest, awards also are given for the most aesthetically pleasing design, and for the closest guess of how much weight the bridge would hold.Olympic is not known for its aesthetics, Henry said. We build ugly, heavy bridges that hold a lot of weight. "