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'In it to win it'
Trine civil engineering students heading to national contest
From left, Trine University civil engineering students Nick Savage, Kayla Criswell, Aaron Brazier and Matt Shergalis show off their project they will take to a mechanically stabilized earth (MSE) wall-building contest at the national Geo-Frontiers competition next month in Dallas, Texas. The box is designed to hold more than 500 pounds of sand. They will remove one of the sides of the box and replace it with a paper wall, which is made to resist the weight of the sand.
ANGOLA, Ind. — What looked like the start of a magic show actually turned out to be a lesson in engineering. With a few equations and some engineering know-how, a group of Trine students built a model wall made of paper that can resist more than 500 pounds of dry sand.
Four Trine University civil engineering students — seniors Matt Shergalis, Nick Savage and Aaron Brazier and sophomore Kayla Criswell — are determined to take top honors at the national Geo-Frontiers competition next month in Dallas, Texas. They were the only Hoosiers selected to compete in a mechanically stabilized earth (MSE) wall-building contest. Walls such as this are frequently used at the abutments of bridges to stabilize soil.
In one of their nearly 20 practice “builds” this past week, the team constructed a model wall out of lightweight cardboard and paper. The foursome worked together like clockwork, each anticipating the next person’s move.
After cutting out a 64.7-square-inch piece of lightweight cardboard, they secured it to the open side of a medium-sized wooden box by folding the paper inward and securing it to the box’s interior using tension rods.
As they filled the box with sand, they removed the tension rods. The strength of the wall relies on the strips of paper anchored to the lightweight cardboard. As the strips were pulled taut and the sand was compacted, the wall became more structurally sound.
After filling the box with more than 500 pounds of sand, the students demonstrated the strength of their wall by standing on the sand. Not a speck of sand escaped from the paper wall.
“The goal is to use the least amount of reinforcement,” Savage explained. “We started out with over a 120-square-inch wall and took it all the way down to 64.7 square inches.”
Last year, three members of the team were part of a group that took part in the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) Great Lakes Regional Competition MSE wall-building contest in Terre Haute. They captured a “disappointing” second place, and Shergalis became determined to take the wall elsewhere.
“We put in a lot of time last year,” said Shergalis “We logged 50 hours or more in the lab.”
Shergalis and his friends set out to find another contest. After hard work, determination and plenty of research, they applied for the Geo-Frontiers competition. They submitted a report giving the details for their wall, which was modified from last year’s model. Now, they will face some of the top engineering students in the country for a national title.
“This is all outside their regular class work,” said civil engineering professor Tim Tyler, Ph.D. “They found this competition on their own and have put hours into this project.”
Trine University’s Reiner’s Department of Civil Engineering is using funding from its endowment to send the students to the competition.
“We are so thankful for the support of our university and our professors,” Shergalis said. “This is an amazing opportunity, and I’m in it to win it.”