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Fox River Grove Middle School students participate in design contest at University of Illinois Engineering Open House

Published: Wednesday, March 15, 2017 11:07 p.m. CDT
Photo provided Fox River Grove Middle School students Jacob Felix (from left), Jared Bright, Daniel Brubacher and Mia Nollett participated in a middle school design challenge at the University of Illinois last weekend. The team built a bridge and won first place in the "lifts the most weight overall" category.

FOX RIVER GROVE – A 68-gram bridge made by four Fox River Grove Middle School students supported 136.5 pounds, earning the team first place in the “lifts the most weight overall” category at a design contest for middle school students.

The contest, hosted at the University of Illinois Engineering Open House, featured 31 teams who competed for awards in several categories, Fox River Grove Principal Eric Runck said.

Science teacher Jackie O’Mara made the trip Saturday with her students, including eighth-graders Daniel Brubacher and Jacob Felix and seventh-graders Jared Bright and Mia Nollett.

“Being new to this, we had no idea how it’d really work out,” O’Mara said, adding that she was proud of how well the students did. 

For two weeks before the competition, students spent their free time in study hall, their lunch period and outside of school to build the bridge, which could only be made out of balsa or basswood and glue, O’Mara said. Bridges also had to span 40 centimeters and weigh no more than 70 grams, she said.

O’Mara said she’s been with Fox River Grove School District 3 for 17 years, and during that time the school has never participated in the competition. When she saw an email about the competition, she asked a few students whether they wanted to go, and she found a few who were interested.

Jared said he wanted to be a part of the competition because he’s interested in the STEM field. 

“It taught me a little bit about engineering because I saw other people’s bridges, and I saw what worked and didn’t work,” Jared said. 

The key to building a strong bridge was reinforcing the joints of the bridge with balsa so that the stress was on the wood rather than on the glue, Jared said. 

Students each built their own prototypes of a side of the bridge to test before building the final one, Daniel said. 

“It was amazing to me to see them work tougher as a team like they did and to really analyze things as they went,” O’Mara said. “They would see something that all of the sudden didn’t look like it was going to work out, and they problem-solved their way through it – that’s everything a teacher wants to see in their kids.” 

O’Mara said the project for the competition changes yearly, and she’d be willing to attend again if students are interested.

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