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Concrete Canoe, Steel Bridge Teams Going to Nationals

Both Student Groups Win Big in Regional Competitions

UMass Lowell Image
UMass Lowell’s 2013 concrete canoe team poses with 'Moswetuset.'

By Edwin L. Aguirre

UMass Lowell’s concrete canoe and steel bridge teams scored impressive wins at this year’s regional competitions organized by the New England student chapter of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE). 

The concrete canoe team took home the top honors, beating perennial powerhouse Laval University from Quebec City, while the University of Maine settled for third place. The regional contest was held April 26-27 and was hosted by UMass Dartmouth. 

UMass Lowell will now advance to the ASCE concrete canoe national competition, to be held June 20-22 at Homer Lake, Ill., and hosted by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. It will go up against 22 other collegiate teams from across the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico. 

The steel bridge team, on the other hand, came in third overall in the regional competition, behind MIT and Laval University. The event took place April 19-20 on the MIT campus in Cambridge. UMass Lowell’s strong finish earns it a spot in the national competition, which will take place May 31-June 1 at the University of Washington in Seattle.

“This is a tremendous accomplishment for our civil engineering students,” says Prof. John Ting, vice provost for enrollments and former dean of the Francis College of Engineering. “This marks the first time in UMass Lowell’s history that we’ve qualified for the nationals in both steel bridge and concrete canoe in the same year.”

“Having two teams advance to the nationals, where the most elite civil engineering students compete, is indeed a historic event for the University’s Civil and Environmental Engineering Department,” says Prof. Clifford Bruell, who chairs the department. “This is an indication of the quality of our students and our program.”

Civil and environmental engineering lecturer Edward Hajduk and laboratories director Gary Howe serve as advisers for the school’s ASCE student chapter and concrete canoe team, respectively, while Prof. Susan Faraji is the faculty adviser for the steel bridge team.

Lighter Than Water

The annual ASCE concrete canoe competition challenges students to design and build canoes made of concrete that are strong yet lighter than water and then race them. The entries are graded based on the quality of the product, its engineering design, presentation and aesthetics as well as the race results.

UMass Lowell’s entry — called “Moswetuset,” which means “shaped like an arrowhead” in Native American language — was molded from a specially formulated lightweight concrete mix and reinforced with fiberglass mesh. The finished canoe measures 19 feet, 8 inches long, 26 inches wide at its maximum and 13 inches deep, and weighs 132 pounds. Its 3/8-inch-thick concrete hull is light yet very strong — it has a tensile strength of 383 pounds per square inch and a compression strength of 1,436 pounds per square inch. To qualify for racing, it had to pass a “swamp” test in which the canoe is filled with water and pushed below the surface; the canoe must resurface on its own.

“Over the years, the UMass Lowell concrete canoe team has finished strong in the regionals, finishing second in 2010, third in 2011 and second in 2012,” says civil engineering junior Jonathan Ernst, who is the team’s project manager. “We have learned a lot from Laval because they are such a great competitor. It gave us a great opportunity to learn how nationally competing teams work and run, and it also created enthusiasm to compete.”  

Ernst says the team is very excited about its upcoming trip to Illinois.

“Our team’s goal, like that of any other, is to go for the top spot, naturally,” he says. “Because of our great strides in the past couple of years, we are hoping for first place but we will also be happy with one of the top five spots.”

For more information about the ASCE national competition, go to To see photos of the races, visit the Francis College of Engineering’s Facebook page.

A Bridge into the Future

The steel bridge competition, sponsored by the American Institute of Steel Construction, requires that students design and fabricate a scale model of a steel bridge according to the specifications in the contest’s rule book, and then construct the model on-site during the competition. The bridges are judged based on construction speed and economy, lightness, stiffness and structural efficiency as well as overall performance and poster presentation.

UMass Lowell’s steel girder bridge spans 15 feet, 10½ inches long; 2 feet, 8½ wide and weighs 104 pounds. It can support a load totaling 2,500 pounds. The bridge’s 39 pieces are held together by 66 bolts and, during the regional competition, it took four team members less than10 minutes to build it.

This year’s steel bridge team is comprised of 19 civil engineering majors — 13 males and six females.

“We are all really excited and proud to be able to represent the University at the national level,” says senior Ross Gladstone, who is the team’s project manager. “It is a great opportunity for us to see what other top schools are doing around the country.”

Ross says the team is hoping to place in the top 10 among the 49 teams that will be competing. 

“We are working to improve our score in Construction Economy category by reducing the number of builders and the construction time,” he says.

UMass Lowell hosted the Northeast regional steel bridge competition in 1997 and will host it again next spring. To see photos of this year’s competition, go to the team's Facebook page.

“The students deserve the bulk of the credit, and the keywords that help explain their success are ‘continuity’ and ‘student leadership,’ ” says Bruell. “They did not achieve this feat overnight — they have incorporated a series of gradual improvements into their preparation for these competitions, and it has paid off tremendously. We have always had some extraordinary students in our program, and within the last six or seven years, these students decided to focus on these competitions and to compete to win.”