Skip to content

Under pressure: Battling for bridge building supremacy

Sault College, Professional Engineers Ontario host annual bridge building competition

The annual bridge competition took place at Sault College Friday, where 360 entries made by students and individuals from across the Algoma District were put to the test to see which ones could withstand the most pressure — literally. 

“We just tested a bridge that almost crossed the 60-kilogram threshold, which is by far above and beyond what we’ve seen so far,” said Marc Pilon, professor and coordinator of the civil engineering and construction programs at Sault College. “In the past, we’ve had bridges hit well over 100 kilograms, so we’re interested to see how well these bridges withstand the pressure.”

Students from Grades 4-12, in addition to participants in the open category, had the opportunity to purchase balsa wood kits and build a bridge in order to compete in the annual competition, which was staged at the brand-new school of engineering room at Sault College. 

“Balsa wood in particular is very easy to break, which is the whole point,” said Pilon. “We want to have bridges that we can actually test on a standard load cell device that we use, and essentially it allows us to easily score who can use the principles of engineering and sciences to come up with the bridge that might best their competitors.”

A number of students from Wawa to Blind River compete in the event year after year in hopes of improving their bridge building capabilities. Some in-class sessions are offered so students can learn engineering principles like tension, compression and different types of loads and material strength in order to get students thinking about what to do with their designs.

“What I find is that doing this year after year, the students that get really good at building these bridges are the students that enter every year — you’ll see the same name from Grade 4 all the way to Grade 12,” Pilon said. 

The event, hosted by Sault College and Professional Engineers Ontario uses sponsorships from Evolugen and PUC Distribution Inc. to bring down the costs of the balsa wood kits, bringing the price of the kits down from $10 to $4 for each kit. 

“It makes it a more affordable activity for the schools,” Pilon said.

Algoma Workforce Investment Corporation also pitches in with bridge building tool boxes.  

“They have, you know, not necessarily all the materials they need to build the bridges, but it definitely takes a bite out of the cost of the schools to buy the glue, the scissors, the knives, the pins — all that kind of stuff,” Pilon said. 

This year’s event marks the second year in a row it has been livestreamed so students, teachers and other participants could watch the competition remotely. 

“It’s interesting because as excited as we were to get back to in-person events, after last year this was an event I got tons of email from students and teachers saying, ‘please keep this a virtual event,’ and we did it Friday before March break,” said Pilon. “Students aren’t doing too much in class, so the teachers put this on the projector and they just watch the bridge building competition all day.”

Marcy Bell, superintendent of education for the Algoma District School Board, stopped by to check out the event. She says 450 students in participating schools, working in groups, submitted entries for the event.  

“We’re so fortunate, because our students get hands-on opportunities to explore and design the bridges,” said Bell. “We found with the students when they’re doing this, it’s really about their own ideas and critical thinking, and they’re often talking with other students about creative ways that they’ve designed, and they’re learning from each other.

“It’s been a great hands-on opportunity for our students in partnership with Sault College.”

What's next?

If you would like to apply to become a Verified reader Verified Commenter, please fill out this form.


James Hopkin

About the Author: James Hopkin

James Hopkin is a reporter for SooToday in Sault Ste. Marie
Read more