May 14, 2009

Two Graduating Engineering Students Bridge Gap Between Fun and Knowledge

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Two graduating Case Western Reserve University students put their classroom knowledge to work and left a parting gift to the campus by erecting a 90-foot bridge built entirely of K'Nex.

It was a stealthy operation that took weeks of planning and 10 hours of on-site assembly and lasted into the early morning hours. But when students and faculty arrived on campus May 4, they and others were greeted by the structure built by Christopher Toth of Columbus, Ohio, and Donald Cartwright of Alliance, Ohio.

"I designed the bridge in my head," says Toth, who said past experience building a number of other large bridge models gave him the confidence that it would work.

Toth fabricated the unique single-cable suspension bridge in 2- to 3-food sections, using thousands of plastic K’Nex parts assembled in his dorm room. It took about 36 hours over six weeks he says.

With the help of Cartwright, a fellow civil engineering major, Toth tied the last knot on the anchors about 1 a.m. May 4 in front of the White Building and near Bingham Building, where the two had many of their classes.

The students wanted to show the aesthetics of structural engineering, as well as the classroom lessons they learned in class.

"It is not easy to achieve a geometry that is realistic, proportional, and representative of true suspension bridges, but the students did it," said Dario Gasparini, Ph.D., one of the students' professors.

Gasparini adds that the "monocable" and the inclined hangers are part of a modern design that has only been used a few times around the world.

Toth’s design uses a signal cable zigzag construction, making it unique, according to the student. If this bridge were made of steel, Toth says, it would be a good bridge, but notes that he is unable to test the strength because it is made of plastic.

One of the things that pleased Gasparini about his students' work was that "opportunities for engineering students to express their creativity are sometimes limited by the intensity of engineering curricula."

"Our students designed and constructed the model on their own initiative, independent of faculty," he added.

Cartwright says most students were surprised to find out they built the bridge just for the fun of it. Toth has built a number of bridges, an Eiffel Tower, and a Ferris wheel, but never for display. Both students will put their degrees to work this summer with internships in their chosen field. Toth will work with the Ohio Department of Transportation this summer and then begin graduate school at George Tech in the fall, where he will study transportation engineering. Cartwright will complete a summer internship at TranSystems in Cleveland. He will pursue a master's degree at the Case School of Engineering.

For more information contact Susan Griffith, 216.368.1004.

Posted by: Kimyette Finley, May 14, 2009 09:44 AM | News Topics: Case School of Engineering, Faculty, Provost Initiatives, Students, features

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