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posted: 1/30/2014 10:27 AM

Mooseheart senior wins annual Bridge Breaking Contest

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  • Rocio Sanchez celebrates after adding weight during the recent Mooseheart Bridge Breaking Contest. Sanchez´s bridge broke shortly after, having withstood 9 pounds, and earning the senior second place.

    Rocio Sanchez celebrates after adding weight during the recent Mooseheart Bridge Breaking Contest. Sanchez´s bridge broke shortly after, having withstood 9 pounds, and earning the senior second place.
    Courtesy of Darryl Mellema

  • Eventual winner Chris Schwartz adds weight during the 28th Annual Mooseheart Bridge Breaking Contest. Schwartz´s bridge withstood 16 pounds before it broke.

    Eventual winner Chris Schwartz adds weight during the 28th Annual Mooseheart Bridge Breaking Contest. Schwartz´s bridge withstood 16 pounds before it broke.
    Courtesy of Darryl Mellema

 
By Darryl Mellema
Mooseheart

As the great German physicist Albert Einstein said, "Time is relative."

Taking time into consideration, however, Mooseheart senior Chris Schwartz certainly made the most of his efforts toward the 2014 Mooseheart Bridge Breaking Contest, which took place Jan. 17.

Schwartz spent two hours creating the balsawood-and-glue bridge and then added four hours decorating the bridge in the colors to honor his German heritage.

When that construction went through its only test, it stood longer than any of the other four bridges -- holding 16.1 pounds before it broke. That made Schwartz the champion of the 28th annual bridge breaking competition at Mooseheart.

"It was kind of a last-minute thing for me," Schwartz said. "I made it right before we were supposed to turn it in."

Despite the relatively short time he spent making his bridge, Schwartz said he had a plan when he began cutting the wood and gluing the bridge together.

"I tried to make it strong in the middle so it wouldn't break down there," Schwartz said. "I didn't focus too much on the base. I just tried to stack all of my wood across the bridge."

One of the features of the contest is that none of the entries can be tested prior to the competition as ultimately, all bridges break -- in 28 years a bridge has never survived unscathed. Rocio Sanchez finished second this year with a bridge that withstood 9 pounds before it broke.

Schwartz said he didn't think much about how his entry would fare as he went through its construction.

"I just started cutting and getting measurements and then I just started gluing it together," Schwartz said. "I was looking at it and it didn't look very sturdy. When I got done, it looked like it was going to be pretty good."

The Bridge Breaking Contest is open to Mooseheart's physics students, and Schwartz said he wasn't sure if he would be included in the class for the 2013-14 school year, though he is enjoying his time in the class taught by Curt Schlinkmann.

"I like physics because you learn how the world works and how machines work and how pretty much everything we use day-to-day works," Schwartz said.

Schlinkmann says the contest changes every year. Different types of glue have been allowed and the type of wood has changed from year-to-year as well. He mentioned before the contest started that the wood was weaker this year, so he didn't expect any of the entries to rival all-time champion Adrianna Tezanos-Pinto's 2007 entry, which withstood 71 pounds before it broke.

"I love the discussion process they go through," Schlinkmann said. "They had a post-mortem afterward, talking about how their bridges broke at certain points because they knew those were the weakest places. It's pretty good that they predicted those things, but they didn't plan and strengthen it there."

Over the years, the Bridge Breaking Contest has become very popular and all high school students attend, along with faculty and campus staff. The physics classroom is always crowded during the competition.

"We try to have some fun," Schlinkmann said. "It's something they all look forward to," Schlinkmann said. "Graduates come back and say 'I remember when so-and-so had a bridge and it did this or that.' It stays with them."

The contest is also meant to be educational, and Schlinkmann said a large portion of that will come in the coming week, when the crowd is gone.

"We'll take a look at how stress gets applied in different directions," Schlinkmann said. "We'll take a look at the engineering efficiency of the different bridges."

About Mooseheart

Mooseheart is currently home to roughly 230 students, ranging in age from preschoolers to high school seniors. Applications for admission to Mooseheart are considered from any family whose children are, for whatever reason, lacking a stable home environment.

Mooseheart students who complete their studies with a 3.0 GPA or better are eligible for up to five years of annually renewable scholarship funding, covering tuition, room and board in an amount comparable to that required for an in-state student at an Illinois public university.

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