Students use cups of sand to test the strength of a bridge at the 2018 Bridge Bust. (Purdue University photo/Lyles School of Civil Engineering)

West Lafayette, Ind. — Area students will test their bridge design capabilities when they come to Purdue University for the annual Bridge Bust Competition. The event, now entering its 40th year, will include a total of 161 teams composed of 289 students from 18 schools in Indiana and Illinois participating in the event Friday (Feb. 22). It is hosted by Purdue’s American Society of Civil Engineers.

Purdue ASCE hosts Bridge Bust each year as an outreach event to area high schools. The objective of the competition is to build a balsa wood bridge that can carry the largest capacity possible, using as few materials as possible. Awards are based on design as well as loading capacity.

Mackenzie Henson, coordinator for this year’s event, said the ASCE hopes to teach students about civil engineering and try to encourage more students to pursue a career in civil engineering.

“I really love this competition because when I was in high school, I had no idea what civil engineering was about,” Henson said. “I thought it was just transportation, but there is so much more. Not many people know that, and I think more should.”

For Bridge Bust, teams assemble their bridges from 20 sticks of balsa wood and a bottle of glue. Most bridges are approximately 2 feet long and 8 inches high. The teams are judged on loading efficiency, aesthetic qualities and structural concepts.

Loading efficiency will be determined by pouring cups of sand into buckets hanging from the bridges. The bridge that can hold the most weight relative to its own weight wins the category.

Henson said student bridges have evolved from small, rectangular structures in the beginning to entries ranging from a spiral-shaped bridge in 2018 and an exact replica of a bridge from a team’s hometown.

Henson said the bridges will be judged by volunteers from Purdue’s Lyles School of Civil Engineering. Side events at the competition will demonstrate other areas of civil engineering and various professors will showcase their research.

The event will be livestreamed on the Lyles School of Civil Engineering’s Facebook page ( The livestream will run from 10 a.m. until noon.