Rifle junior off to International Bridge Building competition | PostIndependent.com

Rifle junior off to International Bridge Building competition

Theresa Hamilton
Special to the Post Independent

Rifle High School junior Tyler Church is an unlikely bridge builder.

The track and cross country athlete had imagined a career in business and marketing. However, an International Baccalaureate (IB) physics class project has him considering other options.

As a class project, RHS science instructor Larisa Gray had her IB and general physics classes construct bridges. These bridges had to meet the specifications of the Colorado High School Bridge Building competition hosted by National Society of Professional Engineers-Colorado.

After the classroom competition, Church and three other Rifle High School students rebuilt their bridges and submitted them for the competition held on March 2.

As a school, Rifle High School placed third in Region 2. Paul Cerros took 11th place overall, Yunior De La Cruz took 10th place, and Nicholas Heil was ninth.

Church took first-place honors in the region. His bridge could hold up to nearly 342 pounds for an efficiency rating of 7,468. The first place finish earned him a $2,500 scholarship to any engineering program he chooses, along with a bid to the International Bridge Building Competition, where he will compete with students from across the country for a full-ride scholarship to the Illinois Institute of Technology.

All of the bridges were constructed of 3/32-inch square cross-section basswood. The bridge had to span a gap of 300 millimeters (about 11.8 inches), had to weigh 45 grams or less, and could be no taller than 100 mm (about 3.9 inches).

Competition officials then applied a load to the bridges to see how much weight a bridge could take before it broke. The efficiency rating given to the bridges equals the load supported divided by the mass of bridge in grams. The higher the rating, the better the bridge performance.

The soft spoken RHS junior said he sought a lot of input on his design.

“I have a lot of experience building trusses with my dad, so that helped,” explained Church. He also received input from Landon Anderson of Anderson-Structural Engineering, and from the employees at Trusfab.

“They all thought it was a really good design and made some suggestions like adding some bracing.”

From design to final destruction, Church said it took about two months to build his top-ranked bridge. Each design took about six hours to construct and only moments to break. He created a “bridge destroyer” at home to test his designs, breaking three additional bridges in the process. His bridges’ stamina came as no surprise.

“I was expecting that it would be a high-placing bridge,” he said. “I didn’t think it would take first.”

Church is now busily working on his new design for the international competition. He plans to stay with the same recipe of success — independent research, coupled with consultation with industry experts — all while competing in track, participating in band and racing radio controlled cars with his dad.

Larisa Gray was ecstatic that her students made such a significant showing at the annual competition.

“I was pretty excited,” she said. “We didn’t spend an entire unit on engineering a bridge. We did it more as a fun project. It was nice to see our students excel in an event that Rifle High has been doing for so long.”

The international competition will be held April 6 at Johns Hopkins University.

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