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Concrete canoe team adds design changes to the mix at annual competition

Kaitor Kposowa | Mar 31, 2014
Photos by Rebecca Miller

Concrete canoe team adds design changes to the mix at annual competition

Kaitor Kposowa | Mar 31, 2014

Photos by Rebecca Miller

Civil engineering students from Ohio University’s Fritz J. and Dolores H. Russ College of Engineering and Technology braved icy waters at Carnegie-Mellon University’s North Park Lake this weekend for the 2014 ASCE Ohio Valley Student Conference’s annual Regional Conference concrete canoe competition.

“We tried new techniques which worked well for us and most likely the team will continue to use them,” said senior Brandon Totman, the team’s mix design captain. “We accomplished all of the goals we set.”

Along with the seven other university teams who competed, OHIO’s team designed a new vessel over the course of the last year. This year’s canoe design incorporated changes to the concrete mix that made the canoe stronger while reducing its unit weight.

“Bringing down our unit weight allowed us to have a solid concrete bulkhead instead of a foam one,” Totman explained. “We also designed a canoe that was modeled after sea kayaks, which are known for their speed. The mold we used was a simple and fast build and required significantly less material than previous years.”

Eliminating the styrofoam bulkhead was a design priority because the team wanted to challenge their technical ability to build a vessel that floats, but without that safety net.

“It was taking a chance and being confident in our design,” said senior Sarah Koska, project manager.

The group also incorporated pre-stressed wires into the underlying structure of the canoe, as well as a carbon fiber mesh that is lighter and stronger than the steel mesh used in previous years. 

“Concrete is naturally weak in tension,” he said. “The tension in the wires creates a compressive load that balances the tensile stress.”

Teams were judged on display, as well as the final product, oral presentation, and a technical paper. After the display judging, students carried the canoe to a lake for swamp testing, which requires the canoe to be submerged in water and float back to the surface. 

Due to the water temperature and ice in the lake, two of the scheduled five rowing races were cancelled. The men’s and women’s 200-meter sprints were raced by Totman and Stewart Vlcek, and Sarah Koska and Julianna Murphy, respectively. Corey Scheer, Jordan Sapp, Emily Siler, and Alice Padua competed in the 400-meter co-ed race.

“The opportunity for students to interact on a variety of projects and with students from other schools was an experience the students will remember throughout their careers,” said team advisor Deb McAvoy, chair of the Department of Civil Engineering. “There was much more than just the concrete canoe at the competition - we also had steel bridge, environmental, surveying and balsa wood bridge competitions.”

Results from the weekend’s events will be available in several weeks, Totman said.

Setting their sights on next year’s competition, Koska said they’ll be taking the canoe to Dow Lake at Stroud’s Run State Park in Athens to improve their racing abilities.

“We want our rowing technique to shine, now that we have a boat that acts like a canoe,” Koska said.

Adrienne Cornwall contributed to this story.