From the December 2019 issue

How to Build a Bridge with Digital Dudes

Got K'NEX construction toys? The Digital Dudes made strong, lightweight bridges with them. Here's how you can, too.

Getting young girls interested in STEM fields is a major focus for educators. And Eastern Michigan University has been so successful at it with the Digital Divas program that they’re bringing boys into the mix.

The Ypsilanti college hosted its first-ever Digital Dudes event last month, inviting 100 middle school boys from around southeast Michigan to learn about careers and college programs in science, tech, engineering and math. 

Dudes set out to make self-driving cars and figure out who stole the school mascot with fingerprinting, chemical analysis and built bridges.

Want to learn how to build a bridge like a Digital Dude? Follow these instructions…

Get to know your bridges

First, check out a few examples of real-life styles of bridges:

  1. Beam bridges are the simplest type. The deck, or surface is simply supported by piers and abutments
  2. Truss bridges are an assembly of triangles that create a rigid framework to support and stabilize the bridge. A great metro Detroit example is the Grosse Ile Toll Bridge.
  3. Arch bridges have very strong natural strength. They’re ideal for crossing deep gorges, since they have no support piers in the mid-section.
  4. Suspension bridges can span very long distances, and use cables in tension to support the bridge deck. Here in Michigan, we have a big example with the Mackinac Bridge, which connects our upper and lower peninsulas.
  5. Cable stayed bridges also span long distances and are more economic than suspension bridges.

Materials

Directions

  1. Choose the type or bridge you’d like to build. In the guide, the beam bridge is on page 29; the truss bridge is on page 35; the arch bridge is on page 55; the suspension bridge is on page 61; and the cable-stayed bridge is on page 71.
  2. Use your K’NEX to build the bridge. (In the Digital Dudes’ competition, the bridges had to span two feet long.)
  3. Carefully add weight to your bridge and see if it supports it for at least 10 seconds. How long does the bridge hold up with one pound? What about five pounds? Use your timer to keep track and log your findings in your app or journal.
  4. How efficient is your bridge? Use a scale to weigh it. Then, divide the weight of the load by the weight of your bridge. The higher the score, the better the efficiency!
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Find out more at emich.edu/digitaldudes.

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