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Discovery builds bridges with UAH engineers

Engineering majors at the University of Alabama in Huntsville are building bridges, on paper and in partnerships, with students at Discovery Middle School.

Tau Beta Pi (TBP) engineering honor society at UAH is working with Discovery eighth-graders in Jane Caudle’s physical science class. They are exploring modules in TBP’s Mindset program to build bridges.

TBP realizes the challenges that U.S. students are facing in preparing for careers in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) disciplines. American students strive to rank equally with peers in many developed countries.

With that focus, modules in the society’s MindSET program reinforce STEM principles, either in a classroom environment or with activities that improve students’ spatial, temporal or reasoning ability (tbpmindset.org).

For the bridges module, Discovery students worked to build a bridge to span a distance of 12 inches. Instead of girders and riveted bolts, students used Popsicle sticks, tacks and tape.

They wrote a report that itemized expenses and design procedure, Caudle said. MindSET guidelines outlined the aesthetics, load capacity for the bridge, weight and efficiency of dimensions.

UAH students pointed out that highway overpasses are bridges, too. Students worked with statistics for bridge capacity, such as traffic loads of 1,800 cars per hour.

Caudle’s class became comfortable in working with common units like pounds, minutes and miles. Students had to differentiate between weight and mass.

UAH engineers and the Discovery eighth-graders viewed the differences with suspension, beam, truss and arch bridges.

In a test exercise, Discovery students were ‘hired’ by a town mayor to design and build a bridge with gap to span of 200 feet. A lane was 8 feet, 4 inches wide. They calculated scale, height and other parameters.

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