Young bridge builders test to failure for big success

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RIVERSIDE, Mo. -- This weekend as most of the rest of us are relaxing or enjoying fun activities, teenagers from all over the world will be in Chicago doing bridge work. They have all designed and built model bridges that have won regional competitions. And they have advanced to the 2016 International Bridge Building Contest. The FOX 4 Young Achievers of the Week will be there, matching up their bridge against all the others.

With thin strips of balsa wood, glue and precision cutting tools surrounding them, two high school sophomores are absorbed in what students drawn to engineering study love to do -- brainstorming and taking on a challenge.

“It is mostly the learning how to problem solve and doing it well,” said FOX 4 Young Achiever Trent Neutgens.

And as Trent and his partner, Ethan Wissmann sketch at a work table at Park Hill South High, a rough design emerges from which the boys begin to construct a section of bridge out of the balsa. This is how Trent and Ethan became champions of RooBuilders, a metro area competition for middle and high school students put on by the UMKC School of Computing and Engineering in partnership with the Missouri Society of Professional Engineers.

The goal -- to build a well-designed, attractive model bridge to exacting specifications that withstands the maximum load before it fails. And Ethan and Trent did it best.

“I’d say the main feature that made this bridge really successful was the braced double arch,” said FOX 4 Young Achiever Ethan showing off their championship bridge. “There are vertical members directly over the loading points and all the members are angled in a way so that they’re taking weight pretty much directly from those loading points.”

There is tape all over their winning bridge. That’s because it had to be reconstructed because it had to be tested to its breaking point and destroyed in the contest.

“It must be a little bit bittersweet to see this beautiful creation go to that point,” said asks this visiting reporter.

“Every time, every time,” replied Trent with a big smile.”

“A little bit, yes,” said Ethan. Building impressive looking spans with creative, even artistic designs is nice, of course, but there is much more to this competition than that. It’s really about what bridges must do to be useful in our lives.

“To be able to hold more total weight with less materials,” said Ethan. That’s called efficiency, the real world goal of bridge building. Their success with that in RooBuilders now has Ethan and Trent going to Chicago on the $800 scholarship they won to compete in the International Bridge Building Contest. They are going there with a new bridge they built – much smaller and to different specifications and demands.

“There’s a space here we’re not allowed to occupy,” said Trent showing the new bridge. “And we had to lift it up using these pylons for the space underneath.”

Trent and Ethan are excited for the international competition and the experience. They say they don’t expect to win but think they’ll do well.

“It will definitely be competitive,” said Ethan.

“It will hold its own, as they say?” asked this visiting reporter.

“It will hold its own, yes,” laughs Trent.

“Yes,” said Ethan with a smile.

Trent and Ethan are the third consecutive team from Park Hill South High School to win RooBuilders and qualify for the International Bridge Building Competition. The previous winners from Park Hill South were Camden Moffet, Micah Sovereign, Will Stock and Ian Morgan.

RooBuilders is put on by the UMKC School of Computing and Engineering in partnership with the Missouri Society of Professional Engineers to get area young people exposed to civil engineering and how professionals in that field design and build infrastructure to make the world a better place to live in. Go to this link for information on the RooBuilders bridge building competition.

FOX 4 News is Working 4 You to spotlight outstanding young people and their positive accomplishments. In our weekly report called Reaching 4 Excellence we meet young achievers in subjects like academics, the arts, leadership, community service, volunteerism, career exploration, overcoming obstacles and heroism. Watch for Reaching 4 Excellence every Wednesday on FOX 4 News at 9 p.m. and every Thursday on FOX 4 News at 8 a.m. and noon.