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Static Bridge Project

Truss Bridge



Wooden truss bridge that held 519 times its own weight

2th place out of 40

The static bridge was a class project to study the mechanics of materials, such as bending, stress,
shear, tension, compression, etc. In Groups of three we were to design and construct a truss bridge
out of only balsa wood. After 2 month a class of 40 groups would compete for the best bridge
design. The bridge is judged by how much static weight it can hold at its center divided by the mass
of the bridge.

Victory Points = Mass of Load / Mass of Bridge

This was supposed to prevent groups from making a colossal wooden block that can hold 50kgs, but
some still did. Though the task seemed easy, a bridge constructed purely of balsa wood trusses is
surprisingly hard to build. In the end our group came second place in the competition with a bridge
that held 519 times its own weight, only 1.19 lower than the first place winner.

The Design constraints were:

The bridge must span a 40cm gap

The bridge cannot be wider than 8cm and no taller than 10cm

The bridge must be made completely out of trusses

There can be no three force members.

Only the provided materials may be used (balsa wood, wood dials, glue)
Design Process


The design started with massive amounts of calculations. Three group members spent three full days
testing 18 different design ideas on paper to mathematically determine the best design. Dozens of
pages spent on force analysis, bending and weight calculations. With the change of any one
member, the entire calculation may change.


Unlike most other groups, other group conducted extensive prototyping to physically test our
design. I even built a testing platform to better emulate the real competition environment. The
prototyping provided invaluable information on structural weaknesses, design oversights, and
allowed us to gain a lot construction experience. A total of 5 prototype bridges were tested and all
points of failure examined. It also provided us the chance to test many interesting ideas, such as fire
hardening. A lesson learned here is that physical models rarely preform half as well as calculated on
paper. Many factors previously unthought-of on paper such as joints detaching, twisting, and
dynamic structural changes was reveled through real testing. Ultimately I believe the extensive
prototyping is what contributed the most to our success in the competition


Construction of the final competition model was built with rigorous standards. First, a prototype of
the final design was tested to braking point and determine the points of structural weakness that
needs to be reinforced. Then every piece of raw material was tested and only the best was selected.
Every measurement was double checked before cutting and checked again before installation. The
construction utilized the experience gained from all of our previous prototyping builds.


On the competition day, the bridge performed beyond all expectations. Weighing only 23g, it lifted
12kgs, more than 519 times its own weight. In hindsight our bridge did not have the best design or
use the best materials. What really set it apart was its excellent construction due to the experiences
gained from making multiple prototypes.