Port Angeles students test engineering skills with spans of Popsicle sticks, glue
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Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News
Jessica Zhu, 17, looks over her Popsicle-stick bridge Wednesday at Port Angeles High School after it withstood 922 pounds of weight during last weekend’s bridge contest.

By Arwyn Rice
Peninsula Daily News

PORT ANGELES — A Port Angeles High School student earned a third-place finish in the 19th annual Popsicle Stick Bridge Building Competition in Seattle, and three other Port Angeles bridge entries were among the seven strongest bridges in the contest.

The top Port Angeles bridge, designed and built by junior Jessica Zhu, held 922 pounds and tied the school's record set in 2006 by Garrett Lumens.

Jessica's combined strength and aesthetic scores earned third place among 70 bridges tested at the contest, hosted by the Seattle section of the American Society for Civil Engineers at the William M. Allen Theater at the Museum of Flight last weekend.

Learn something new

“This is fun. You learn something new every time you have your bridge broken,” Jessica said.

On Wednesday, Jessica was awarded a $500 scholarship from a coalition of Port Angeles-area engineering firms.

The group provides scholarships to top-performing engineering students from Port Angeles High.

This is Jessica's second entry into the annual competition in which students make models of bridges with Popsicle sticks and Elmer's glue.

Her 2013 entry was the sixth-strongest bridge tested, at 558 pounds.

Jessica said she plans to study to enter medical school.

Both bridges that beat the Port Angeles team came from Puget Sound Community School, a small private school in Seattle.

The school's two bridges held 1,636 and 1,388 pounds, to earn first and second place in the overall category.

The “overall” competition is judged by combining scores for strength and ascetics.

The top three overall finishers are disqualified for the “strongest bridge” and “most ascetic bridge” categories.

Other awards

Port Angeles students earned first- and second-prize finishes in the strongest bridge category — the fourth- and fifth-strongest bridges in the contest.

A bridge built by a team of three juniors, Simon Shindler, James Gallagher and Peter Butler, held 864 pounds and was the fourth-strongest bridge tested and winner of the “strongest bridge” prize.

The bridge's strength was nearly double that of Simon's 2013 entry, which held 435 pounds.

“That, to me, was very impressive,” said Gene Unger, a volunteer engineer mentor.

Simon, James and Peter each were awarded a $300 scholarship.

Yirong Liu, a senior, and Joseph Bennett, a junior, worked together on a bridge that held 368 pounds for second place in the strongest bridge contest and $200 scholarships.

A bridge built by Melanie Schimschal a junior, held 350 pounds, the seventh-strongest bridge, and earned a $200 scholarship.

Volunteer engineers

Port Angeles-area engineers volunteered each week for the past two months, to mentor the students in preparation for the annual competition.

The team's mentors are Unger of Gene H. Unger Engineering LLC, Joe Donisi of Clallam County Public Works, Seth Rodman from Zenovic & Associates and Chris Hartman from the Port of Port Angeles.

Port Angeles High physics teacher Derek Johnson is the adviser for the student engineering team.

The school has a long history of success in the contest.

“Most [other teams] don't have four awesome mentors standing over you,” Jessica said.

All but one of this year's Port Angeles bridge builders are juniors, so the mentors are expecting another strong showing from the school's team in 2015, Johnson said.

About 20 students turn out for the contest each year, but in most years, only a handful complete their bridges because of the many hours of work required to finish the project, he said.

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Reporter Arwyn Rice can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5070, or at arwyn.rice@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: February 13. 2014 6:00PM
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