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Engineering students love a challenge ߞ; make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, fly a lead balloon. Better yet, build a canoe out of concrete ߞ; and then hold a race.
This year, an intrepid group of UMass Lowell students placed fourth in the New England regionals, out of a field of 12. The University of Maine, which won the event, started the concrete canoe races in this region in the 1970s. Since then, the competition has gone national, sponsored by the American Society of Civil Engineers. UMass Lowell last won the regionals and competed nationally in 1994.
Senior Nina Nazarian, project manager for the team, said many in the group were “inspired by the fun we had last year at regionals and the whole concept of the competition.” Starting in early September with planning meetings, the students worked to develop a lighter, more maneuverable canoe.
They made a lighter concrete by mixing the cement with a Perlite aggregate, ceramic spheres, glass bubbles and various additives. Wood templates formed the base for a foam mold and then it was a “mud job” ߝ mixing and smoothing the concrete in place. The final canoe weighted 268 pounds, down from last year’s 400. Each canoe is supposed to float when filled with water and this is checked before the races start.
Meanwhile, the team members practiced their paddling, since the races (men’s, women’s and coed’s sprints and endurance) account for 25 percent of the final score. A design paper, visual display and an oral presentation make up the remainder.
The finished canoe was named “Mighty Mouse” because of a real, live stowaway found during one of the practice paddling sessions. Since the tiny creature survived a wild car ride, an hour of paddling and a swim to shore, the team named the canoe in its honor.
Nazarian, who will be an assistant civil engineer for the town of Melrose, praised the great spirit at the competition, as teams from different campuses helped one another. Her advice for future UML teams: “Understand the commitment, be dedicated and good luck.”