To the South African Institution of Civil Engineering (SAICE)’s delight, the all-girls team from the Domino Servite School from Kranskop near Pietermaritzburg, reigned supreme at the International Bridge Building Competition, organised by the SAICE and held at St Albans College in Pretoria on 31 August 2018. Not only did they win, but they were the youngest team to participate – only in Grade 9.
The team, which consisted of Elsi Haux, Nadine Engelbrecht and Monica Allen, built a bridge with 25 dowel sticks and glue, weighing only 135 g, but with a weight-bearing capacity of 234.5 kg. Ultimately, aspects such as aesthetics, the mass of the bridge and the weight-bearing capacity determined the winning bridge. Their total score was 634, and they also received the much-sought-after 3D-printed bridge trophy.
In second place was the team from Technical High School Daniël Pienaar, from Uitenhage, with their 135 g bridge that withstood 192.5 kg before breaking. The team included Onesimo Ndulula, Uthmaar Sirkhotte and Cee-Jay Dolf as its members and had a total score of 519.1.
Hoërskool Pretoria-Noord’s team members Burger Botes, Adriaan Boshoff and Jacques van der Merwe took the third spot with a bridge weighing 105 g and carrying 97.3 kg before destruction. Their total score was 351.3.
This year’s finalists came from as far afield as Bloemfontein, Cape Town, Durban, Glencoe, Harrismith, Kimberley, Mossel Bay, Mthatha, North-West, Pietermaritzburg, Richards Bay, Uitenhage, as well as Swaziland and Zimbabwe.
Very few interventions or career days have the advantage of practically illustrating what a career is all about, and the finals of the hugely successful annual SAICE International Bridge Building Competition provided learners with this opportunity.
Now in its 27th year, approximately 600 schools from across South Africa, Swaziland and Zimbabwe are reached to determine who the finalists would be in this exciting competition. The finalists from all the regions, organised by the SAICE Branches countrywide, compete for the much sought-after trophy and the substantial cash prizes for team members and their educators.
Seeing is believing when one watched the teams building bridges from dowel sticks, glue and a bit of string. Experiencing one of these bridges carrying a weight of 234.5 kg before breaking, is like a miracle.
On the day
An informative presentation by a civil (bridge) engineer on the stresses and strains to be taken into account when designing a bridge precedes the action. Each team consists of three learners from Grades 9 to 12. The bridge building kits contain 25 dowel sticks of 3mm nominal thickness, glue and a piece of string. Construction of the bridges is according to a technical briefing given on the day. The teams then get down to the tricky business of planning, designing, measuring, cutting dowel sticks and constructing the bridge by gluing everything together to form sturdy bridge structures, while racing against the clock towards tools-down time. The contributions of RICHEM, the glue sponsor, and Penetron assist in the smooth running of the competition.
When the assembling is completed, the meticulously constructed bridges are left to dry. The adjudicators complete their task regarding bridge aesthetics and mass. After a change of attire, the teams gather in the auditorium for an evening of nerve-racking testing of their bridges. Excitement mounts, hopes soar and some dreams are shattered as one team after the other brings their bridges forward for testing on the rig. Every bridge is tested to destruction to ascertain its weight-bearing capability.
SAICE initiated the bridge building competition in 1991 to further high school learners' use of Mathematics and Physical Science to grow the profession. It has since become an enormous success. The bridge building competition forms an integral part of some schools' activities and is recognised on the same level as academic or sports achievements.
Because of its practical and hands-on nature, this event is SAICE’s most successful initiative in attracting learners to civil engineering, as well as promoting a general awareness of the profession. The competition provides an ideal career guidance opportunity.
Although there can only be one winner, all these learners benefit by participating and being in a big city. Some learners even experienced a first time flying in an aeroplane – an experience never to be forgotten. Getting to meet other people and learners from all corners of South Africa, as well as from Swaziland and Zimbabwe, is an added advantage – building bridges between people, cultures and countries.
This initiative, in support of government’s objective to address the priority scarce skills challenges in South Africa, with civil engineering as the second scarcest skill on government’s list, has captured the imagination of learners since its inception and has led to many choosing civil engineering as a career!