UAF Steel Bridge Team prepares for national competition against big name schools

Published: Apr. 26, 2021 at 4:23 PM AKDT
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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) - A team of students at the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) has secured a spot in the National Steel Bridge Competition, which pits schools head to head in the creation of steel bridges from design all the way to final assembly. Though it took a year longer than expected due to COVID, this team of UAF students has made its way to the finals. The long-running competition, sponsored by the American Institute of Steel Construction (AISC) challenges participants to design and build a steel bridge.

UAF team captain Ben VanderHart described the process that got the team to this point. “We were really ramping up over spring break with the fabrication and then COVID hit, so obviously that canceled everything. Then fast-forward to this year, everything’s starting to open up again. The competition committee decided to keep all the rules the same as from last year, so we were able to keep the bridge that we had built. We had it about halfway done last year, so we were able to work real hard and finish it up, and then compete with it this year.”

The UAF team claimed the top score in the 2021 Pacific Northwest Regional AISC Student Steel Bridge Competition, giving the team the opportunity to advance to the national finals against other student engineers, including teams from Lafayette College and MIT. VanderHart said, “We are a top team nationally, we’re in the top ten. We’re competing against schools like Berkley, Michigan Tech, Georgia tech, some really big names - and we’re really proud of what we can do with what we have. We’re hoping to do better this year.”

The steel bridge designs are judged based on various categories including overall efficiency, weight, and speed of construction. From the long processes of design and fabrication, to the race to reduce assembly time, construction of these bridges requires a great amount of team effort.

“This whole process would not be possible without our sponsors. We are funded almost entirely by local businesses. They supply our steel, our shop material, so we’re very grateful for all the businesses that donate to us,” said VanderHart.

Two years in the making and several thousand student hours later, the steel bridge they created is prepared to carry the UAF team through nationals.

The UAF National Steel Bridge Competition can be viewed on Monday May 3rd starting at 3:30 p.m. The livestream will be available for viewing via Zoom here.

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