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Garden Grove High licks rivals in Popsicle-stick bridge contest

The challenge at Cal State Long Beach: build a bridge out of Popsicle sticks and Elmer's glue and see how much pressure it can withstand.

February 20, 2012|By Angel Jennings, Los Angeles Times
  • Alfred Saniano holds Francisco Bravo Medical Magnet High Schools entry in the Popsicle-stick bridge contest. It gave way at 755 pounds, taking third place
Alfred Saniano holds Francisco Bravo Medical Magnet High Schools entry… (Katie Falkenberg, For The…)

A faint crackling sound broke the silence inside the crowded workshop at Cal State Long Beach, and with it the dreams of a first-place title dissipated for students of Francisco Bravo Medical Magnet High School.

It took less than a minute to destroy the handcrafted bridge that the team of four had spent months constructing out of Popsicle sticks. But under the crushing pressure of 755 pounds, the bridge buckled.

The students from the Boyle Heights campus had a lot to prove. They were the returning champions from last year's bridge-building competition in which the only materials allowed are two childhood staples: Popsicle sticks and Elmer's glue. Team members — Stanley Ung, Wisia Wong, Alfred Saniano and Jessica Lee — wanted to break a five-year pattern of alternating between first and third place.

At this competition, contestants hope only that their masterpieces survive the strength test. The structures, which weigh less than one pound, are loaded into a computer-controlled hydraulic press, where shear force is applied.

"They are made to be broken," said Michael Morgan, a science teacher and bridge-building coach at Bravo.

The symphony of snap, crackle, pop led to an eruption of applause from other students who were vying to win the annual contest Friday. About 140 from 20 schools participated.

Entries are judged on looks, strength, presentation and a surprise portion in which students had to use random materials to build a catapult that could launch a marshmallow.

Misael Cortes covered his mouth as the bridge he'd created with three classmates from San Pedro High School was put to the test. Popsicle sticks flew a few feet into the air, landing by the foot of a teammate as the pressure intensified. It took 940 pounds to damage the structure.

"That was unbelievable," gasped Michael Nacpil, a senior at Panorama High in the San Fernando Valley.

Members of the next group, contest newbies North High School in Torrance, reluctantly followed. Their bridge twisted in nearly opposite directions, almost snapping into two under 120 pounds.

The bridge Michael had constructed with three classmates held a 220-pound load, but it would have carried more, said civil engineer Joshua Svensson, if they had let the glue dry longer.

"I've never studied the chemistry of glue, but the winning team should," Svensson said.

The students from Garden Grove High School clearly did. They chose Elmer's super-strength white glue, and it proved sturdy, with their bridge able to sustain 1,125 pounds of pressure.

Teammates Severin Zaluzec, Henry Quach and Michael Tran took home the winning title and a $1,000 prize split three ways.

"I can die now," said Severin, a sophomore. "I'm happy with it."

The team from Bravo maintained its pattern:The school came in third .

angel.jennings@latimes.com

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