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2010: MIT Steel Bridge Team

Bridge-less Summer?

This summer, I have learned that steel is not the only material out of which one can build bridges.

As an environmental engineer, my summer has been slightly less bridge-filled than my school terms. This summer, I have been working as a Summer Student Fellow at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institue on picturesque Cape Cod, studying phytoplankton regulation with MIT Course 1 alum Heidi Sosik, who is a senior scientist there. I have been having a great time learning about oceanography, going on the occasional cruise out on Buzzards Bay, and doing some fascinating research. 

However, even with my head full of the squishy environment that I do so dearly love, bridges haven't entirely off my mind. My family came up to visit a few weeks ago and we all went down to the beach.

Sand bridge!

See? That stunning piece of sand architecture is a sand bridge, connecting a sand MIT to the mainland. I also collected a bunch of really cool shells and rocks.

However, the bridginess did not end there. Alex J., my fellow junior in Steel Bridge, celebrated his birthday this past July in Boston, and I unfortunately was not able to be there. I did make it to Boston the following weekend, and offered Alex a bridge-brownie sculpture as compensation.

Brownie bridge!

Complete with jello water and land. It was delicious, too. It was all the cream cheese mortar, I think.

Other than that, all of us here are getting excited for this upcoming Steel Bridge season. The rules for this next year were just released (!) and we're anxious to get started! First, we'll be showing the next generation of undergrads in DCEE all we know about bridge building and see what great creations they come up with. Keep an eye out for the DCEE 2010 freshmen and the bridges they'll be making and testing in late August. They should be great, if last year's bridges were any indication!

The Road to Nationals

I realize I have been somewhat remiss in writing blog posts recently, so I apologize to any diligent followers who were worried that my lack of posting indicated a lack of progress … au contraire.

Following regionals, the team took a bit of a hiatus to recuperate (and catch up on all the work we had pushed off to practice!). Once we got back to practicing, we shuffled the build team, with senior captain Matt Pires gracefully bowing out to let veteran builder and senior captain Gina Policelli build. Freshman Scott Landers, junior Kim Huppert and I all continued on the team. Practicing again after regionals was a bit rough; we knew we wanted to cut our time down from ~6:40 minutes to somewhere closer to 5:30 minutes. After one broken light and 10 broken drill bits (ask us about the drill bits… we practically ate them for breakfast…) we started shaving off time, getting down to 6:00 minutes.

Our beautifully painted bridge

By this point, we had to paint the bridge and send it out to Purdue so it would be there when we arrived. The team flew out from Logan on Wednesday and met our bridge in Indiana. Once at the hotel, we started taking over, taping off sidewalks for our practice area, moving trash cans out of our way and generally creating an atmosphere of bridge-y mayhem. Maybe it was the West Lafayette air, or maybe it was the adrenaline from the competition being so near, but after three practices or so (and some good food, gymnastics and Frisbee), our build times started dropping like crazy!


Over two days of practice we got our time down to 5:35 minutes, our lowest ever! To celebrate, we went out to the Triple XXX diner, which is quite famous. The team feasted on burgers (some with peanut butter!), malts, and traditional breakfast foods. We were feeling pretty good and ready for the aesthetics competition on Friday.

At Triple XXX

On Friday, we went to Purdue, where 46 bridges were laid out on the grass. They ranged in colors from sleek blacks to neon yellows to classy silvers and bold reds. Ours stood unassumingly in the #1 spot, indicating we would build first the next day. We had a fun afternoon checking out the other bridges, meeting new people, learning about their experiences at regionals and generally assessing the competition. We saw many innovative designs and were feeling both nervous and excited to challenge these really competitive teams!

That night, we had a nice dinner at a local Italian restaurant, where we were joined by the infamous Jimmies of Boston Bridge Services, who were so invaluable this entire past year in helping us both fabricate and design our bridge, and the Lisas. Senior Adam Talsma gave a heartfelt thank-you speech and presented books that the team had signed to the Jimmies. Steve then one-upped us by giving the Jimmies Chinese Checkers games that he had custom made.

We didn’t dally overly long though, because the next morning, at 6a.m. sharp, we were out again in the parking lot of the Holiday Inn, practicing building our bridge for the last time before building it in the competition. After two solid sub-six minute builds, we packed up our stuff, donned our new black steel bridge shirts and departed for Purdue.

Once we were there, it was all a blur. We set up our staging area just as we had so many times before. We met with the judges, who went over the so-familiar rules with us, as we itched to start building. After a rendition of the “Beaver Call” we started. A scant 5 minutes and 50 seconds later, Gina raised her hand to signal to the judges that we were finished. We had two drops (of bolts) during the run, which gained us minor penalties, but these turned out not to have influenced our score. After that the judges checked our bridge for dimensions (which were fine, thankfully!) and we moved on to load testing. At the load-testing station, Scott and Dan Jiminez (sometimes called Hana) loaded our bridge, which only deflected .68 inches total! We were really excited and ready to find out how our scores matched up to the other teams …

… which we didn’t get to find out until seven hours later. In the interim, we took lots of silly pictures with the bridge, hung out by the pool and got ready for the awards ceremony. The team managed to clean itself up into a rather presentable form, and we headed back to Purdue.

There was a dinner and there was a talk, but really, let’s get down to the good stuff.


They called out the top three teams for lightness, speed of construction, and then stiffness (how little the bridge deflects). We weren’t ready when they called “Massachusetts Institute of Technology” for 3rd place in that last category! All four team captains went up to accept our prize, which was then lovingly photographed many times. This critical win, against many heavier, deeper bridges, helped us to place 6th in the overall competition. The team was ecstatic to have finally broken into the top 10! We celebrated with more malts and then returned to Boston the next day ... ready and excited to get next year's rules. Steel Bridge 2011, at Texas A&M. MIT will be ready.

Regional Winners!

The MIT Steel Bridge Team took home five First-Place Prizes: 1st Overall, 1st in Efficiency, 1st in Stiffness, 1st in Aesthetics, and 1st in the Paper Competition.

The team is estatic and really excited to be going to the National Competition in Purdue, Indiana. But before I get too ahead of myself with all the exciting news, I'll give a full recap of our exciting day yesterday (and Friday).

Friday evening was the annual Paper Competition. Last year I delivered our speech (which won), so we struck fear into the hearts of our competitors when they saw me and realized that I wasn't competing. (This was overheard: "They have someone even better than her?!?") Scott Landers, our awesome freshman, who will be majoring in Environmental Engineering, lived up to the expectations. As soon as he delivered his intro, we knew this was going to be good.

"When people ask me: 'Why are you majoring in civil engineering?' I respond: 'Because I want to get my hands dirty and save the world.' Then, there is this silence, when they realize I am serious."

Taking home the win in the paper competition — and the MacDonalds we ate afterwards to celebrate — put us in a good frame of mind for the ultimate competition the next day.

Bright and early Saturday morning (and I mean early... 5 a.m. early), our team was in the basement of Bullding 1, loading our bridge and supplies. Our t-shirts, courtesy of Brooke Jarrett and Adam Talsma, were finished that morning and we donned them excitedly. We then drove over to Tufts, where we set up our bridge for the aesthetics competition. Many of us (myself included) curled up on the floor and succumbed to sleep before the judging started at 9:30 a.m.

Me, asleep before the competition

There were many competitive-looking bridges there that morning, with many strategies for the design constraints, some eerily similar to ours and some very different.

For the building component, our team went 4th. As our time got closer, the team got really excited. Wearing our hard hats, goggles, and bright pink shirts, we set up our pieces, our tools, our temporary piers, and our fasteners.

Kim setting up our staging area

Then, they called "go." Kim and Scott quickly ran out pieces to me and Matt, the barges. We set up the first end-piece on the pier and ... "stop" was called. It took several minutes to sort out this first snafu; the judges questioned the legality of our placement of the end-piece on the pier, but fortunately the ruling was in our favor. Building recommenced and piece after piece went in smoothly. Time seemed to go by slowly as our bridge went together without fault. Kim and Scott ran out all the pieces perfectly, and Matt and I were in sync as we reached the end of the bridge, where Kim and Scott take over and build while Matt and I tighten the rest of the bolts. The team worked together really well, and it paid off. Our time was great and we had no drops and no repairs. We felt great as we went into the weighing and load-testing areas.

After that, we passed the later load test with flying colors. Scott and Dan Jiminez loaded our bridge, which deflected less than any other bridge in the competition. We were feeling good, but with few other bridges having already gone, we weren't sure how we would stand up overall.

We had to wait until that night at the awards ceremony to find out that we had a runaway First Place, which felt really good. We are now planning our journey to Nationals, so we have a lot of work to do.

Keep reading this blog to find out more about our journey!

Practice, Practice, Practice

If you have tried to get out of the parking lot by Building 1 recently, you may have had trouble. In need of more space to practice, we have started practicing our construction sequence there, at least while it's still light out!

Right now we have a semi-finalized build team consisting of me, Matt P, Kim and Scott. Kim and Scott run out the pieces (at least to start) while Matt and I are the "barges" and build the bridge. My goal is to get as speedy as Matt in getting the pieces put together and bolted tight; I was close today but still need more practice. We are really psyched for the Regional competition!


We are also working on our t-shirt, designed by the lovely Kim. Brooke has kindly agreed to help us make our shirts (we are screen printing them ourselves) so hopefully we'll see how they turn out soon!

We'll continue practicing every night this week to be ready for the big day next Saturday. Make sure to look for us this Friday 11 a.m. - 2 p.m. out by the Student Center as we practice in front of the pre-frosh for CPW.... :)

Down to the Wire

Had you been in the basement of Building 1 a few nights ago, you would have seen a bunch of MIT students running around with drills, bolts, nuts, brooms, and some sign-posts. Yes, this was the MIT Steel Bridge Team. While the Jimmie’s helped us finishing weld our last cross-piece and finalize the height of the legs, several of us practiced optimizing our construction sequence with mock props since all of the pieces of the bridge were in use elsewhere.

The Jimmies helping us weld

Over the last few days, we have been practicing the construction of the bridge, which involves running pieces out to “barges” and then building the 20-foot bridge sequentially from there. We have been trying out different sequences to see how best to optimize our time.

Alex and I trying to stop Steve from taking a picture of our less-than-professional practice

Yesterday we also started to load test our bridge, and hit a small snag. We'll be redesigning and refabricating certain cross-pieces to make the bridge more stable during loading. We will also be practicing every evening to make sure that we are fast as possible!

Coming Together

Sorry for the sparse blog posts recently! I’ll try to fill in some more details than usual to make up for all of my shorter posts (and I got some pictures, to make up for the times I promised them and then forgot my camera…)

So the bridge is just about done! While in Abu Dhabi over spring break, I got the most exciting e-mail, letting us know that the welding is done, the ends are re-designed and rebuilt, and we’re in pretty good shape! Gina, Pierre, Steve, Adam and the Jimmies put in a lot of extra hours over break to pull this together. Freshman Scott also come up big, writing and submitting the paper for the annual Steel Bridge Paper Competition; he will have to present it on the Friday before the competition. He has tiny shoes and a steel bridge dress (mine, actually) this year… MIT was victorious in the competition last year, getting first place (but not the prize money that was promised to us). Sources say that a Steel Bridge tie may be in the works, but we’ll have to wait and see on that one!

We’re done now though, right? Wrong. Now that our bridge is largely finished, we still have a LOT of work to do. We have to paint / decorate our bridge to comply with regulations and to be ready for the aesthetics competition, which is the tie-breaker for all categories. We also need to figure out how best to build it, and who will be doing so. We did design our bridge for a specific build sequence, but there are many more specific elements that can’t be determined until we start trying it. Our temporary piers, or supports that help us support the bridge during construction, also need to be designed and built. The piers need to be small, easily moved, and strong enough to hold up some serious steel; once designed and built, their movement needs to be incorporated into our building sequence.

We also are working on the boxes in which we’ll transport our bridge, since some of our older boxes are literally falling to bits. Alex and I worked on designing them, but we still need to break out the drills and screws and get them finished. A poster for our bridge also needs to come together… and all of this before the competition, which is only two weeks away! Did I mention we need to practice building?

steel bridge in the lab

It's cut... or be cut...

For all of you holding your breaths, it's okay, you can stop! The MIT Steel Bridge Team has started the construction of our bridge!

Last week cutting commenced (and I was working with Tina and Pierre to cut 40" pieces of steel pipe, so I didn't write this blog...) and the Jimmies came in to help us make a jig for welding everything precisely and neatly. We'll continue cutting this week and the Jimmies will be back again soon to help us weld everything together.

Scott helped out big by helping Steve R. machine some of our connections, while Dan dutifully smoothed out all the rough corners. We also found (and by we, I mean Steve) a cool set of letters that we'll use to stamp ID's onto some pieces of steel so we don't get them confused. (Don't think this is a big deal? Well then you've never tried to keep track of a couple hundred pieces of steel.)

We're also all looking forward to CPW (April 8-11, the same weekend as regionals!) when we'll be having a mock build for the freshmen; hopefully we'll come up with as good of a music selection to keep us motivated as Lauren did last year.

Anyways, we're doing more cutting tonight, so hopefully I'll remember to take some awesome pictures.

Solving Problems in the Midst of Snowmageddon

While many parts of the country have been ravaged by the "blizzard of 2010," the Steel Bridge team, is deep in the depths of MIT, planning our bridge.

The room is a flurry of discussion, as the Jimmies, our master welders, noted some problems with our current design. Some of the pipe walls we were intending to use would be too thin to actually weld; the weld would burn straight through the pipe walls! Pierre and Jana have been scrambling to go through our spreadsheet of steel choices to "beef up" those sections. Meanwhile, Alex J., Kim, Tina, Gina, Dan and I worked on refining another internal connection, while Matt P. played music for the team's enjoyment.*

* Or his own.

I've included a picture of a section of our bridge, since I have received criticism for having no pictures; it has been edited to prevent espionage though (although I do rather like the effect of the large blue circle...).

In other news: Alex has trouble reading colors from his CAD diagrams, which makes identifying bar stock very difficult.

Tina is engaged, which some people (cough Adam and Matt cough) didn't know, but all of us are excited about! Yeah Tiny T!

Adam T. ran in and jumped on Steve.

Overall, today was pretty productive, thus this somewhat truncated blog article; more updates next week!

CAD image of the bridge

Starting the Spring Semester

Today we had our first steel bridge meeting of the spring semester; we started off the evening with some tasty pizza (yeah, I know you're jealous) and then the seniors surprised Gina with a birthday cake as today is also her birthday (it is also delicious)! It was nice seeing the team again, since many people were away for IAP. The team is also abuzz with discussion of the show "Lost"; Empire in particular seems a little antsy!

The birthday girl snapped some photos...

The birthday girl snapped some photos...

But more seriously, the infamous "Jimmies" from Boston Bridge are here today to help us know whether or not the great connections and designs we have cooked up will actually work when we try to build them. The Jimmies are expert welders and have taught the team pretty much everything we know about the tricks and tools of welding, which will come in handy as we work on fabricating the members of our bridge. We have posters all over 1-8000* showing pieces of our bridge and proposed connections, so we had better hope that anyone spying on our awesome design doesn't find our lair!

* Room number has been changed to prevent anyone finding us.

The team has also started discussing who will be interested in being on the "build team" or the group of people who actual race to complete our bridge at the competition. We want as few people as possible, because the time is measured in "man minutes" or the total time, multiplied by the number of builders. Last year we had try-outs to determine who would be on the team; not only do you have to be fast, but also nimble enough to connect the pieces effectively. Legend has it that the build team knows the bridge so well by the end they have nicknames for the pieces...

In other news, CEESA (the Civil and Environmental Engineering Student Association) turned in its annual report already, which, once approved, means that we are officially eligible to compete! Yeah! (If you want to hear the story of how we were almost disqualified last year for our report's lateness, let me know; maybe I'll detail the harrowing story in a future post.)

That's pretty much it for this week in the life of a steel bridge team, although I am going to make a brief plug for the show I'm in (Little Shop of Horrors!), which closes this weekend (Thursday-Saturday at 8p.m.). In the show, I'm working with a couple of Course 1 alums — Alex French '05 and Luis Loya '09 — which makes us one of the best-represented majors. Others in Course 1 — Aaron Chow — for example, have also been involved in shows, proving just how talented and creative our department is! (Although, this isn't always good; last year the team threatened to come to my show with CAD posters...) I included a picture of the three "Doo Wop" girls below (picture courtesy of Alex French), so you can see what's been keeping me from helping Alex J. CAD recently, hehe.

Me in Little Shop

Steel Bridge: The Legacy Continues

Welcome to the new Steel Bridge blog! This is Emily Moberg reporting, a junior here in the department. I’m majoring in Environmental Engineering and hope to someday work in conservation ecology. You might be thinking I’m from the wrong half of the department to be on the Steel Bridge team, but the rest of the team at least tells me they like me anyways. This is my second year on the team; last year I helped us win the Regional paper competition on sustainability, and went with the team to Las Vegas to compete in National competition. Perhaps most notably, I made a Steel Bridge dress, which might re-surface this year if I’m feeling so inclined.

Dan, me, my dress, and Connie at Nationals

Dan, me, my steel bridge dress, and Connie at Nationals

First, a brief introduction to the competition: each year, there is a new “challenge” for us. This challenge is most easily understood as an “envelope” our bridge has to fit into. For example, two years ago, the team was allowed to build a super-structure, like for a suspension bridge. However, these last two years that I have been on the team, we’ve been constrained to “deck bridges” which means that the trussing and supports that keep our bridge standing have to be below where the cars would drive. There are also other challenges in terms of having rails, only using bolts less than 1.5”… and the list goes on. If you want to check out all 30 some pages of rules, check out the ASCE website.

Bridge envelop for this year

So, now that our bridge design fits in this imaginary envelope, we have more work to do. Each piece or “member” of the bridge can only be 3.5’ long and 6” square, meaning to span the 20 feet required, we need many hacked up little bridge bits to come together to make our whole bridge. Making the connections between these members both strong and quick to put together is one of the major challenges we face; our constructed bridge will be loaded tested up to 2500 lbs. and measured to see how much it deflects (or bows downwards). How fast we build the bridge also factors into our score… as does how much it weighs… Our grad student mastermind, Pierre, helped us figure out how best to trade-off conflicting design constraints like weight versus deflection.

We spent most of this fall working on the design for our bridge, whether that was the overall shape, the load path, or the connections. We were really excited to welcome several freshmen who were introduced to the love of bridge building by DCEE, the freshmen pre-orientation program that many of the members of the team are involved in. This year their challenge was building wooden bridges, so they were well prepared to contribute to our team! We have also had several new additions over IAP from my and Alex’s year, which is really exciting!

We’re now finalizing our design and hoping to get started on cutting and constructing in the next month; this sort of timeline is necessary since we need time to practice building it FAST before the Regional Competition, which will be hosted by Tufts this year. Alex and I are, well mostly Alex at this point, working on making a virtual (CAD) model of our bridge before we start construction.

Anyways, that’s all for now! We’ll try to keep you updated with our progress, shannanigans, (hopefully!) triumphs, etc. as we continue on our road towards the National Competition at Purdue!

About this Blog

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This blog is about the travails, tribulations and traditions that make the MIT Steel Bridge team tick. Join us as we prepare to compete at Regionals and hopefully Nationals, first designing, then fabricating and finally practicing constructing our bridge.

Read the blog.

Meet the Team

Kim Huppert (aka Muppet)
First Year on Team

Dan Jimenez (aka Bottomless Pit)
Second Year on Team

Alex Jordan (aka ADWJ)
Second Year on Team

Scott Landers (aka Gorilla Toes)
First Year on Team

Jana Marjanov