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2009 News Releases



Prefrosh learn bridge building and marsh protection in CEE’s pre-orientation program

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By Debbie Levey
Civil & Environmental Engineering

Real hands-on engineering began in August for 23 new MIT students enrolled in Discover Civil and Environmental Engineering (DCEE), a program of activities, lectures and social events held each year the week before freshman orientation.

This year’s project focused on the complex problem of building a bridge across the Bering Strait from Russia to Alaska. After learning fundamentals of bridge design from Professor John Ochsendorf, students broke into teams to create four-foot-long pine structures that simulate a bridge spanning the strait. Teams could choose any design as long as it met the project requirements for height and length, and included space for a shipping lane between the bridge piers. Almost all of the models passed the project load requirement for  carrying at least 250 pounds (113 kilograms) with less than a half-inch deflection. A CEE panel graded each team’s efforts on bridge cost, performance and aesthetics, as well as on team presentation.

Construction is only one of the difficulties of creating a bridge spanning the Bering Strait. “The DCEE kids did an environmental impact discussion about the feasibility and issues the bridge would face, from political pressures between the U.S. and Russia to earthquakes to impacts from ice floes,” said junior Emily Moberg, who was one of the CEE student mentors.

For a taste of environmental engineering, students traveled to the Plum Island marsh and bird sanctuary north of Boston and learned about the Long Term Ecological Research program, an international effort to monitor sites around the country, Puerto Rico and Antarctica for decades. During the last 11 years, researchers have studied how differences in land use, climate change and rising sea level affect the productivity of the Plum Island estuary. The MIT students also practiced taking water samples, watching birds and yanking out invasive plant species.

Plenty of recreational opportunities alternated with the engineering and academic sessions as students explored the city, visited the beach and dined in the North End.  For the ultimate Boston experience, they boarded a party bus complete with music and a televised Red Sox game en route to a boat cruise down the Charles River.

Many CEE people participate in the annual DCEE program. Along with Ochsendorf, this year’s faculty included Professors Jerry Conner, Heidi Nepf and Markus Buehler. As always, Stephen Rudolph provided technical help and mentoring for the building projects and Pat Dixon provided administrative support. Three recent alumni discussed professional opportunities in the fields of civil and environmental engineering: Peter Israelsson who is with Quantitative Environmental Analysis; Aaron Chow from Gradient Corporation; and Sean Homem of Simpson Gumpertz & Heger.

Seniors Matt Pires and Sara Barnowski were the project leaders. DCEE mentors supervised activities and shared their own experiences with Course 1 highlights, such as UROPs and Steel Bridge contests. In addition to Pires and Barnowski, this year’s mentors were seniors Sam Fox, Katie Puckett, Adam Talsma and Sam Weiss; juniors Tracey Hayse, Fatima Hussain, Alex Jordan and Emily Moberg; and sophomores Mike Chen, Dan Fourie (Mechanical Engineering), Chris Hendrix and Bryan Macomber.

DCEE participants plunge into group work with a bridge design project. Photo / Stephen Rudolph