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Saint Leo University’s Annual Bridge-building, Breaking Contest Showcases Fun Of Science

Cybersecurity student William Bryan’s Popsicle® stick bridge breaks record by holding 93+ pounds.

Tags: Adult Learners Artificial Intelligence Biology College of Arts and Sciences Cybersecurity Data Science Robotics School of CARDS School of Computing STEM University Campus Department of Natural Sciences Physics Engineering Veteran
10 March 2023 -

Anticipation filled Selby Auditorium on March 9 as students competed in Saint Leo’s Ninth Annual Bridge-Building Competition, with students hoping their creation would not break as weights were added. Ten teams participated in the event, which was hosted by the Department of Natural Sciences and coordinated by Dr. Harsha Perera, assistant professor of physics and physical sciences in the College of Arts and Science.


The competitors in teams of one to three students had the goal of building the strongest possible bridge using only Elmer’s® glue and no more than 200 standard Popsicle® sticks. The entries had to bridge a 1.2-meter span. 

“Last night’s bridge contest was a very successful, fun, and engaging event,” Perera said. Despite the ‘No-Show’ bridges, we tested a total of 10 bridges.”

“I believe this event sparked the enthusiasm for all the students regardless of their age or their major to learn engineering techniques on designing and building a bridge with the given material, 200 Popsicle sticks and one Elmer’s glue to hold enormous weight compared to the mass of the bridge,” Perera continued. “It is also a good teamwork exercise and a great STEM [science, technology, engineering, and math] activity for all ages. It would have been great if there were high school and or middle school participation. I hope to see more teams participating next year.” 


For the student-competitors in science fields, this was a way to put in to practice what they are learning. “As a STEM major, and with the research we do, this really is leading us down a career path, too,” said Hannah Evers, a senior.

One of her team members, junior Alexa Keeler, who like Evers is a biology - biomedical and health sciences major, said the competition was just plain fun. “It’s been a stressful week, and I had five exams,” she said. “This is just a lot of fun.” 


And, it was a win for Evers, Keeler, and their teammate Juan Jimenez with their bridge, “Jahkeg,” as their creation earned the most audience votes and was named Most Aesthetically Pleasing.

The competitors placed their bridge to span across cinder blocks then one of last year’s winners, Chris Bove, gently hooked a bucket underneath. If it held, the students then placed bags of rocks in the bucket, adding weight little by little until the bridge would break. Bove then would weigh the bucket.” 


Taking top honors for the bridge that held the most weight — and seemed like it would not break — was senior cybersecurity major William Bryan. The Air Force veteran, while not a science major, saw a flyer for the bridge-building contest, and thought it would be fun. “And I like competition,” Bryan said. 

His wife, Jacquelyn, urged her husband to tell the “real” reason he participated. “There was a bridge-building contest when I was in middle school,” he said. “But I was bad, and I wasn’t allowed to compete.”

Now as a college student, he’s the champion. His bridge held 93.8 pounds without breaking. In fact, an additional bucket of rocks had to be placed on top to break the bridge.


“We even ran out of pre-prepared weights,” Perera said. “If we could measure the exact total weight, I believe it could have been around 110 pounds which is a record in the history of our bridge contests.

Dr. Laura Altfeld, chair of the Department of Natural Sciences, said the competition brings out the fun of science. “And we never outgrow playing,” she said. “The goal is putting physics principles into action. The Popsicle sticks symbolize that you can never take yourself too seriously.”