May 2, 2007

C.U. Engineers Host Regional Cement Canoe Competition

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On April 13 and 14, a person enjoying the view of Cayuga Lake may have been surprised to notice a host of students in wetsuits, paddling canoes in water even colder than the 40 degrees outside — the Cornell chapter of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) was hosting the concrete canoe competition of the Upstate New York Regional Conference.
The contest was highlighted by concrete canoe and steel bridge competitions; Cornell participated in both. There were a total of 11 schools at the conference, and eight participated in the canoe competition.
For the concrete canoe competition at the conference, each team constructed a canoe from scratch, which was judged on a written report, a technical presentation, canoe aesthetics and racing capabilities. The various forms of judging called for both a strong and well-rounded design. The students were required to design the canoe within certain size and weight specifications, and the canoe had to float.
Cornell’s approach to the competition this year was to strategize and plan ahead, keeping on schedule each step of the way.
Jeremy Macht ’07, the concrete canoe captain, said, “Our main goal for the year was to learn and have fun. We focused mostly on developing a good process and staying on path.”
The team began last fall by recruiting members to the Cornell ASCE, which was split into individual teams, one of which was specifically designated for the concrete canoe competition. The first step was to design the concrete mix and then to cast the canoe. The Cornell team used Styrofoam, glass beads and perlite in their concrete mix this year.
During last year’s competition, Cornell’s team failed the floatation test, so this year they focused on that aspect of the competition. While the team succeeded in passing the floatation test this year, the concrete of the canoe cracked and was therefore not allowed to continue in the races.
“Before it failed, we were able to get in and paddle it around for fun, but as a group of three of us were paddling, the bottom of the canoe fell out from under us and we crashed into the water,” Macht said, “Even if the conditions are as they were this year, 40 degrees and windy with a water temperature below 40, every team is excited and more than willing to jump into their wetsuits and get in the water with their canoe.”
The Cornell team includes one graduate advisor and six students.
“We have a relatively small team compared to the other schools, so it has proven extremely difficult keeping up with them,” Macht said.
The competition itself is organized by the ASCE National Committee, who changes the rules for the competition on a yearly basis to ensure a new canoe is designed and built annually. They adjust the specifications of the canoe each year in order to both challenge the engineers as well as prevent recycling.
While the winning entry in this year’s competition belonged to ETS, the Cornell team has participated in this competition in the past and achieved success, winning the concrete canoe competition in 2003.
Jacek Stypik ’07, conference chairman, said, “The conference provides an avenue for civil engineering students to apply engineering skills taught in the classroom in a fun way. Students from the 11 schools received a great hands-on experience through designing and constructing their canoes.”
“[The competition] forces us to think outside the box, go back to the basics we learned in our classes and reapply them to problems that we have never seen before,” added Macht.
Through hosting the conference this year, the Cornell Chapter of ASCE was able to raise over $20,000 in sponsorship donations and registration fees and host approximately 270 students from the 11 difference schools.
This year’s Upstate New York Student Conference at Cornell was one of 18 different conferences to take place across the nation. The winners of the concrete canoe competitions from each regional conference go on to compete in the National Concrete Canoe Competition.