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concrete canoe competition, civil engineering competition

The 2017 Concrete Canoe team will represent ASU at one of the major student competitions sponsored by the American Society of Civil Engineers. Photographer: Natalie Miller/ASU


After a year of work, an Arizona State University team is primed to put its skills to the test in one of the most challenging student engineering contests.

Most of the more than 20 team members will be at the University of California, Irvine, on April 6 through 8 for the annual American Society of Civil Engineers Pacific Southwest Conference Concrete Canoe Competition.

The ASU squad — all students in School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment in the Fulton Schools of Engineering — will compete against teams from 18 other colleges and universities in Southern California, Hawaii, Nevada and Arizona.

The two teams that turn in the best performances get a trip in mid-June to the Colorado School of Mines for the national ASCE Concrete Canoe Competition. Members of the top three teams there will receive scholarship awards.

The event is designed to make students demonstrate their talent at applying fundamental civil engineering principles and methods.

“First we had to develop a project schedule and use a scheduling tool to manage all the work. We also had to ensure each aspect of the canoe adheres to a set of stringent standards,” says Veronica Head, one of two project managers. Caesar Castro is the other manager.

“For our hull design and structural analysis, we used MATLAB and a computer code to build canoe models. We also had to perform structural calculations to verify the stability of the design,” Head explains.

The team had to design concrete mixes and test them to determine if they met industry standards. Construction of the canoe also had to meet extensive quality-control standards.

concrete canoe competition, civil engineering competition

Crushed sea shells, microscopic glass spheres and recycled glass balls, went into a lightweight concrete mix the team concocted for its Harry Potter-themed canoe. Photographer: Natalie Miller/ASU

A change in the competition rules during the past year challenged the team to make significant changes to its canoe design.

“We had to reinvent our entire concrete mixture. This involved getting new materials and testing them,” Head says. “One of the new materials is actually crushed sea shells. We also decided to build ribs in to the canoe for the first time, which are basically rails that run along the belly of the boat.”

At the competition, teams must submit a written project report and present an oral report, as well as provide a computer-aided-design drawing of its canoe.

Judges evaluate canoes on whether they are in compliance with all competition rules and structural and engineering standards. They also rate the boats on the quality of workmanship they exhibit and on their overall appearance.

Teams are also judged on how creatively a canoe’s aesthetics and its display at the competition depicts the project’s theme.

The ASU team chose as the theme of its canoe the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry from the Harry Potter books and movies.

“We thought it would be a really fun theme that we could do a lot with,” Head says. “Our canoe display will have a lot of Harry Potter-themed props in it, like magic wands and Quidditch balls.”

The aggregate materials the team used in their concrete mix will be displayed “like they’re in a magic potions cabinet,” she adds.

The Fulton Schools students are especially eager to make a strong showing at this year’s event because next year’s competition will be at ASU, which will co-host the event with Northern Arizona University.

Read more: “Concrete Canoe team endeavors cast these Fulton Schools alums off on rewarding journey