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Paper bridges show the stuff of potential engineers HOWARD COUNTY EDUCATION


Ten sheets of black construction paper and a roll of tape were all Glenwood Middle School students had to work with to build a paper bridge that would support at least 5 pounds.

Eighth-grader Scott Buchanan was sure that his invention -- a bridge made of corrugated paper reinforced with cylinder rolls -- would win. But it collapsed after 30 pounds was placed on it.

"We wrapped it up twice in paper so it could resist the weight," Scott said. "I think if we had made it thicker, it would have held more weight."

Among the dozen entries, the winning design came from 14-year-old Josh Hatmaker. His bridge was made of tightly taped, rolled sheets of paper that were stuffed with extra paper to give more support.

"We thought it was going to be too short," he said. "It was lopsided."

But it was strong enough to withstand the 60 pounds that engineer Tim Heaps piled on.

Eighth-grader Valerie Leuchs, a member of Josh's team, shuddered after the 14th pound was placed on the paper bridge. "I thought it was going to collapse right away," she said. "What really helped was the roll of tape. We just went wild with it."

The activity was part of Westinghouse's "Discover E" program, which takes nearly 80 engineers into classrooms throughout Maryland to participate in hands-on activities as well as to promote the sciences. The letter "E" stands for engineering.

Two Westinghouse engineers had come to the school to work with students and to talk to them about engineering careers. They also handed Principal Vincent Catania a $1,000 check to buy equipment.

While America produces one engineer for every 10 lawyers, Japan produces one lawyer for every 10 engineers, said Tom Brinker, a Westinghouse engineer supervisor.

"It's time our priorities change," he said. "We're putting in a lot of trust and hope that these kids will be the engineers of the future. Technology is accelerating at a fast pace, and we hope the kids will accelerate with it."

The paper bridge activity was designed for students to test a product before it goes on the market -- a task engineers do everyday. Some bridges failed miserably, while others held up temporarily.

Noah Smith's bridge collapsed under 14 pounds of weight. "It probably would have helped a lot more if the bridge wasn't so short," he said. "It's what inside the bridge, not how it looks, that counts."

One group was disqualified for cheating after students hid a ruler inside the bundle of paper and tape. The group's bridge had withstood 63 pounds of weight before the ruler bent out of shape.

Science activities took place in other areas of the school. In eighth-grade teacher Dottie Resce's class, befuddled students worked on lifting an upside-down science table using only six plastic garbage bags.

"Did anyone consider using the bags as balloons to lift up the table?" she asked her class.

"Yeah, right," one student retorted.

But to his and the entire class' surprise, six students blew air into the bags, forcing the table to lift about 4 inches.

"I didn't think the bags could lift the table because they were so thin," said Marni Brown, 13. "I was surprised."

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