The Joys of Engineering Pasta Bridges: Is Fettucine Stronger Than Linguine?

March 23, 2012 by Darren Architecture, Design, Education, Engineering 0

Pasta Bridge Engineering Students Richard Williams

Can we train the next generation of civil engineers with pasta noodles?

You bet!

The thing I love most about the classroom construction projects of Richard Williams (many of you may know him by his blogging nickname, “Corporal Willy”) is how he gives credit to the pasta brand.

Look closely at the snapshot of his bridge above and you can see it was meticulously built with beams made from Barilla Fettucine.

Williams, a retired U.S. Marine and International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) electrician, is a dedicated volunteer in the Las Vegas public schools –  a system that has been devastated by a series of massive budget cuts.

“Building bridges is a great science and engineering lesson because it gets kids to do something with their hands,” says Williams, also a part-time CAD instructor at the College of Southern Nevada. “But the (bridge kits) cost a lot of money and we saw a lot of teachers dipping into their own pockets to pay for materials. Our challenge was to find less expensive materials than balsa wood.”

Enter the Fettucine and some Elmer’s Wood Glue.

For a while, the retiree’s prototype pasta bridge was displayed at the campus museum of the University of Nevada Las Vegas (UNLV). His creations are built for strength – and are often destroyed in stress tests to prove to students how engineering innovation can make all the difference in the world.

The bridges are even impenetrable (most of the time) to curious doggies.

Williams says that a 9.5-ounce cardboard stool that he designed can hold more than 1,100 pounds. He brings the tiny 8-inch x 8-inch chair to his science education presentations that he gives to 30-35 different schools each year.

“Nevada has a huge dropout rate. My speaking engagements are focused on encouraging kids to stay in school so they can get good jobs and break the cycle of poverty. I also try to unite industry with the classroom. Companies benefit because they’re helping prepare the workforce of the future,” he says.

Williams is particularly proud of his success getting a plastic gears manufacturer to support the Clark County School District’s robotics programs.

“I begged them to send me anything that fell on the floor or that they didn’t need. I had no idea they’d send me 100 pounds of gears of all shapes and sizes. I was elated and I noticed that one of the teachers was crying,” he says.

Corporal Willy, as he’s nicknamed on his personal SolidWorks Blog and his contributions to Engineering.com, served in the U.S. Marines in Japan’s Ryukyu Islands during the Vietnam War. His main function was water purification in remote villages.

Regardless of what engineering challenges his college students may face in the future, Williams believes that training them in the 2D drafting fundamentals will prepare them for anything.

“I start them all with 2D sketches. We start with a simple plate with holes drilled in it,” he says. “I don’t let them do anything in 3D until they’ve got the 2D sketching down pat.”

Richard Williams, a.k.a. "Corporal Willy"

The teacher urges his classes to download DraftSight, a free professional-grade 2D CAD tool from Dassault Systèmes, to practice at home. He’s also urging teachers across the middle schools and high schools to adopt DraftSight for their curriculum.

“I’m telling every teacher I know about DraftSight,” Williams says. “Almost everything I build for my classroom projects can be drawn in 2D, with front, top and side views. This can even be done by young students in the sixth, seventh and eighth grade. The earlier we start, the better!”

(Have a CAD-related education project you’d like to share?  Drop us a line at DraftSight.News@gmail.com)

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