Will it float? VU students build concrete canoe

2013-12-01T08:07:00Z Will it float? VU students build concrete canoeSusan O’Leary Times Correspondent nwitimes.com
December 01, 2013 8:07 am  • 

VALPARAISO | Being fitted for a pair of concrete shoes usually never turns out well, but having a concrete canoe might not be too bad — if it was built by a group of Valparaiso University engineering students.

Students from the VU chapter of the American Society of Civil Engineers are building a canoe made of concrete with hopes that it floats in the Concrete Canoe Competition at the Great Lakes’ ASCE Student Conference at the University of Illinois in Champaign in April 2014.

VU’s canoe will vie against entries from other engineering powerhouses, like Purdue University, Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, and the Illinois Institute of Technology. Canoes must pass a myriad of tests, including manned canoe races, and a “swamp” test, where the canoe must stay afloat after being swamped with water.

“It has to be light enough to float, yet strong enough to survive,” said Ben Oelschlaeger, a freshman from Minneapolis, Minn., who is on the eight member canoe building team.

To pass the competition’s tests, the 18-foot, 300-pound canoe must be composed of concrete that is less dense than water, said Eileen Carmignani, a junior from Naperville.

Nick Feller, a student from Lagrange Park., said the group used “normal” cement mix, with a twist.

“We needed to take out the filler and replace is with something that is less dense,” said Feller.

So, the team used plastic chips made from laundry soap bottles, bits of tire, and glass beads.

Although the team has been working on the design and materials since August, they finally mixed and cast the boat Nov. 16 on campus.

Students first created a mold from foam board, joint compound, and plastic sheeting, and then poured in the cement mixture. The boat will “cure,” covered by a plastic tarp, for 28 days, and then the team will release the canoe from its form in January.

For fun, the group will paint designs and VU’s name and logo on the canoe, along with the canoe’s own name.

“We named it Wingin’ It, because that’s what we are doing,” said Michael Salguero, of Ebensburg, Penn.

Getting the canoe to the competition may be the group’s biggest challenge.

“The toughest part is transporting it because it is very brittle,” said Jacob Frey, a junior from St. Paul, Minn.

The plan is to build a box in which to place the canoe, which will be surrounded with Styrofoam packing “peanuts.” The students will then strap the canoe-in-the-box to a flat bed trailer and truck it down to Champaign in April.

VU has been absent from the annual event for four years, said Erik Negri, a civil engineering student.

“We’re trying to get VU back in the competition,” said Negri, from Gurnee.

The team is grateful for cement donations from Smith Ready-Mix, but they are shouldering the financially responsibility of covering all expenses to get it in the competition. Yet they hope this year’s entry will be the start of many more to follow.

“We’re creating a foundation for future entries,” said Salguero.

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