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Structural Engineering Students
Rock at Regional Design Competition

By Denine Hagen | April 10, 2006

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UCSD team assembles steel bridge.

From designing a dorm model that would withstand a Northridge-sized earthquake to creating a chemical-free water filtration system, UCSD structural engineering students proved the innovation leaders at the 2006 American Society of Civil Engineers’pacific southwest regional collegiate conference held at UCLA March 30 to April 1.

The UCSD Society of Civil and Structural Engineers (SCSE) chapter competed against 17 universities to take first place in the seismic design, environmental engineering, quiz bowl and steel bridge design challenges. 

The UCSD team has been participating in the steel bridge competition for just four years, and is one of the only teams to take a fresh approach by redesigning their bridge each year. The competition involves designing, fabricating, and constructing a 22 foot-long bridge that meets strict design and safety criteria and can be assembled in minutes during the competition. “UCSD faculty are famous for bridge design, and I think we benefited form our training in structural analysis and advanced computer tools,” says Oliver Asis, a volunteer for the steel bridge design team and conference coordinator for the UCSD SCSE team. “We design something new and different every year, and we are known as the innovators for our bridge connections.” 

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UCSD dormitory model stands up to Northridge earthquake simulation.

The connections are critical to how fast the bridge can be constructed at the competition. The Jacobs School structural engineering students created unique twist and snap-in-place connections, which allowed them to assemble their entire truss bridge in 10 minutes and 8 seconds during the competition. 

Having qualified with their first place finish in the regionals, the students will now be working to optimize their steel bridge design and running drills to accelerate their on-site assembly speed in preparation for the national ASCE competition coming up May 26 to 27 at the University of Utah. 

“Our goal is to assemble our bridge in under eight minutes. Over the next two months, our team will be practicing together to become that well-oiled machine that will win the national competition,” says Asis.

Reflecting the Jacobs School’s leadership in seismic testing and earthquake safety engineering, the UCSD team also nailed first place in the seismic design challenge. Students built a three-story, scale-model wood dormitory. All of the models were tested on the shake table with ground motions recorded during the Northridge quake at its epicenter. UCSD’s dormitory emerged with the least amount of damage after the being hit with the “big one.” Among the regional competition challenges, the UCSD SCSE team was most surprised and excited by their win in the environmental challenge dubbed “Stinky Business.” Students were asked to imagine themselves in a future world ruled by dogs who are plagued by contaminated water resources. The challenge: develop a water treatment system to purify a one gallon of water mixed with dog food. UCSD’s design was simple and elegant. 

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UCSD students used clay and volcanic rock to create a natural water filtration system.

“We used clay, volcanic rock, and other resources to create a natural filtration system that did not rely on any chemicals. We came out with high quality, drinkable water,” says water resources team member and SCSE chapter president Philip Yu. “We were thrilled by this win because hydrology and water resources are not a part of our structural engineering curricula at UCSD.” The Jacobs School students competed in all 13 challenges in the conference, and placed third overall for the competition. The team benefited from the help of the UCSD campus research machine shop, where they used precision instruments for fabricating their designs. In addition, 12 corporate sponsors stepped up to provide funding, materials and expertise. 

Yu says the ASCE students are thrilled by the results of this year’s contest and credits a talented and passionate team. UCSD fielded a team of 51 students, rallying about ten percent of all structural engineering students on campus to get involved in the contest. 

Over the past five years, the ASCE student chapter has grown significantly, and has quickly risen to become major contenders in the regional design competitions that are traditionally dominated by the Cal Poly schools. Four years ago when UCSD first entered the regional competition the team placed last, the following year the team moved to 13th place, in 2005 UCSD took 5th place, and this year the team moved into third.

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