It may not have looked strong to its builders, but a bridge constructed from balsa wood, masking tape, tacks and a metal plate not only held more weight than its competitors, but helped carry Year 10 Science students from The Armidale School to overall victory in the annual Highlands Science and Engineering Challenge at the University of New England for the fourth consecutive year.
“We remembered that triangles are the strongest shape – and learnt that looks can be deceiving in what a bridge can support,” said Dimity Tearle, a member of the bridge-building team in the multi-challenge event.
Pitting their skills against other bright young people from the region, the 30 Year 10 TAS students came away with the highest marks at the annual challenge, held at UNE on 16 March.
For the Challenge, each of the participating eight schools fields eight teams of three to four members, which all compete in eight different competitive activities involving science and engineering concepts presented to the judges at the end of the day. Activities included making a model hovercraft that must be fast and manoeuvrable, building a catapult for accuracy and distance, building a tower from drinking straws and designing a Mars Rover to carry a precariously balanced load over a rough surface.
“I was in a group that had to construct a bionic hand using straws and PVC piping. In our second challenge we had to try and distribute electricity around a model town in the most efficient way according to different scenarios, and were pleased to come second in that,” said Nicholas Bohlsen.
Apart from the challenges, the day also gave a snapshot of possible career paths.
“We had to use ingenuity, think of new ideas and how to do things in the most efficient way. This gave us an idea of the processes engineers in particular have to do every day,” he said.
The Highlands Challenge is supported by the University of Newcastle, the University of New England, Rotary Clubs, Engineers Australia and retired engineers, scientists and others.
The TAS team will now compete at one of the State finals in Newcastle August.