Results finally in for Popsicle stick bridge contest
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Erin Rice, left, and Simon Shindler were presented with scholarship award letters Wednesday after their Popsicle bridges were among the strongest bridges tested in this year’s state civil engineering contest. Jessica Zhu, not pictured, also received a scholarship for her bridge.

By Jeremy Schwartz
Peninsula Daily News

PORT ANGELES — Two months and one broken hydraulic bridge tester later, the official results for the 18th annual Popsicle Stick Bridge Competition, which pit dozens of high schools statewide against each other, are finally in.

Port Angeles High School was the only school on the North Olympic Peninsula to compete in the contest.

Although no students from Port Angeles High School broke the top five in overall competition scores this year, high school physics teacher Derek Johnson, the students' adviser, still described the results in glowing terms.

'Best-ever showing'

“It was our best-ever showing for number of bridges and quality of bridges from Port Angeles,” said Johnson, a 14-year veteran of the competition.

A record of nine completed bridges made it to the February competition in Seattle, though the four local professional engineers who also advised the students could pick only three to officially register for the competition.

“The engineers were really pleased with how many kids saw it through to the very end,” Johnson said.

“It's way more challenging than people realize.”

The bridges were judged both on their strength and what they looked like.

This year, the engineers chose high school senior Kelley Mayer and sophomores Erin Rice and Simon Shindler to compete.

Rice's was the second-strongest bridge in the competition. It held 569 pounds, but she took home sixth place out of 25 possible because of a low aesthetics score.

“I was also a little disappointed on the aesthetics score,” Rice said Thursday.

Rice, who is the daughter of Peninsula Daily News reporter Arwyn Rice, said she intends to enter the contest next year, adding that she's learned to plan out her bridge in more detail before she puts it together.

Shindler took home fourth-strongest and 11th place overall with a bridge that held 435 pounds, while Mayer ranked 13th strongest and 20th overall with a structure that held 156 pounds, Johnson said.

First place overall went to a student from the private Puget Sound Community School in Seattle with a bridge that held an unheard-of 2,270 pounds, Johnson said.

All bridges in the contest must span no more than 2 feet and weigh less than a pound, Johnson added.

“So kudos to Puget Sound Community School for just an awesome bridge,” Johnson said.

“Usually, a bridge like [Rice]'s would have won.”

Testing on hold

The vast majority of the bridge testing, slated to be held at the Museum of Flight in Seattle, was put on hold for more than a month after the hydraulic press set up to test the bridges to failure broke.

“It was really a bummer,” said Johnson, adding that he had never seen that happen at the competition before.

“We had nine Port Angeles families there, and [the press] stops working halfway through.”

The bridges finally were tested at a University of Washington engineering lab in mid-March, though none of the students could be there to witness it.


Rice's entry gained her a $500 scholarship pooled by a trio of Port Angeles engineering firms comprising Gene Unger Engineering, Northwest Territories Inc. and Zenovic and Associates.

That was half the money the firms made available for any of the nine Port Angeles High students who completed their bridges and had them tested, Johnson said.

Shindler took home $300 worth of scholarship money, Johnson said, while sophomore Jessica Zhu got $200 for her bridge that held 558 pounds.

Based on his students' work this year, Johnson said the high school's contingent of aspiring engineers likely will do well in the 19th annual Popsicle Stick Bridge Competition and contests to come.

“We're confident we'll continue to put in a good showing for Port Angeles at the competition,” Johnson said.


Reporter Jeremy Schwartz can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5074, or at

Last modified: April 20. 2013 5:38PM
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