Apr 012012
Authors: Elisabeth Willner

In Engineering B10, a 22-foot canoe hangs suspended from the ceiling. On its outside, a bald eagle watches over the room from a background of red, white and blue. On its inside, strong, lightweight concrete held together by carbon fiber mesh rests as it was designed 10 years ago.

Since 2002, this canoe, known as the “Eagle,” has been a pinnacle of achievement for the CSU American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE): a marker of the last year the team competed in the national concrete canoe competition.

CSU hasn’t been to nationals since, and in recent years, the competition has fallen to the wayside.

This past week, however, a CSU team came closer to nationals than any other team since the Eagle. With two semester’s worth of work behind them, the team finished in second place at the regional competition at the University of Wyoming.

In a 400-point competition, they were 6.3 points behind Utah State University, the first place winner.

“I think [the other teams] were surprised because for the last 10 years we really haven’t been participating and then we show up with something like this,” said Richard McBeth, the president of CSU’s chapter of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) and the leader of the project. “It’s a total change.”

In addition to finishing second overall, the team also won first place for their design paper, second place in the racing competitions and second place for the presentation of their project. Their canoe, named “Native,” attracted attention with its original design –– one the team had adapted from the Eagle.

“We turned a lot of heads throughout the process,” said Jim Foreman, a senior engineering major and head of construction for the project. “I take pride in that we did it in our own style and almost unseated the reigning champs.”

The logistics of floating concrete

The ASCE started concrete canoe competition in the 1960s, and CSU has been participating since it went national in 1988. Each year, student engineering teams from 18 different regions design and build canoes made primarily of lightweight concrete mixtures.

The project helps them gain practice in their future profession.

Donald Silar, a senior associate for Stantec Consulting and an adviser for the project, said that participating in concrete canoe helps students open doors within the civil engineering community.

“It helps students help themselves by increasing their opportunities to land a job,” Silar said, “It also helps private sector employers get a feel for what the students are like.”

Though it may sound odd to try and float a material known for sidewalks and parking garages, the concrete used for the canoes is specially designed for the purpose. Where normal mixes use gravel, the concrete canoe mixes use an aggregate of glass microspheres, which look like tiny white balls in the concrete mix.

To keep the canoe from breaking, a carbon fiber mesh is layered in with the concrete. Once complete, the canoe has a lower unit weight than water. A cylinder of the concrete feels lighter than a snowball.

Reclaiming a legacy

For CSU, 2002 was the powerhouse year of concrete canoe and its sister ASCE competition, steel bridge, with both making the national competition.

For a couple years the team went downhill, however, according to McBeth. In 2010, the CSU canoe team failed the “swamp test,” a test where the canoe must float back to the surface after being completely submerged. In 2011, CSU didn’t even enter the competition.

Instead of taking the year off, however, the team thought about the future. They looked over photos of other teams’ 2011 canoes to get an idea of what their competition would be like in 2012.

They also convinced the Engineering Department to count concrete canoe as a senior design project, a requirement for engineering majors, so that more engineering students would feel encouraged to take time to work on the project.

Still, there were challenges. Compared to other schools, the team worked on a low budget and had fewer team members: only six compared to other teams with 15 to 40 students contributing.

They also lacked the knowledge passed down from years of experience, which other teams, like Utah State, rely upon.

In spite of the disadvantages the team made the most of the materials available to them. Parents helped donate money for the project, the CSU bookstore donated shirts for uniforms, and High Plains Scuba gave the team a 50 percent discount on the wetsuits needed to pilot the boat in cold Wyoming waters.

And the team had determination. When they hit snags in the process, they kept working. One design mishap led to 70 hours of correction work taken in two all-night shifts. The team pulled through with the help of energy drinks and Internet radio tuned to rock hits and dubsteb.

It took the team about 2,055 hours, including 20 all-nighters, to finish the project.

In the end, it paid off.

Even though the team didn’t reach their goal of nationals this time, they gained experience to pass on to the next generation of CSU competitors. The current team has already begun passing on information to underclassmen who will work on the project next year.

Tony Grasso, a sophomore engineering student who worked on steel bridge said he’s looking forward to continuing with the ASCE competitions and is already planning for the next conference.

“I’m anticipating next year,” Grasso said. “Even though the competition is a year away, I want to get a jump on it.”

Collegian writer Elisabeth Willner can be reached at news@collegian.com.

The competition
-Sponsored by the American Society of Civil Engineers
-Teams design, build, present and race canoes made from concrete for 18 conference competitions across the United States

The canoe
Name: “Native”
Length: 21 feet 11 inches
Weight: 176 lbs.
Made from: hand-mixed cement, glass aggregate and carbon fiber mesh
Design: stained with a scene of the Colorado Rocky Mountains
Shape: inspired by the 2002 “Eagle,” the last CSU canoe to compete in the national competition

The team
Richie McBeth – Project Manager
Ross Snyder – Analysis
Patrick Dickey – Mix Design
Jim Foreman – Construction
Andrew Moss – Paddling
Derek Miles – Aesthetics
Andrea Fasen – Paddling team
Jocelyn Bryant – Paddling team

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