BYU-Idaho's concrete canoe

Students in the Department of Mechanical Engineering aimed to defy the laws of buoyancy as they competed in the American Society of Civil Engineers' Concrete Canoe Pacific Northwest Competition hosted by the University of Idaho. In this competition, they faced teams from across the nation as they raced concrete canoes they had spent months designing and constructing. 

Students prepared for the race months before, as they poured over the rules and regulations of the competition.

"One of the real gains of the competition come from this project management," said Nathan Harris, the Mechanical Engineering faculty member overseeing the competition. "Everything from delivering the project on time to meeting the specified rules, because there are a lot of rules to follow. So, just reading through a big rule book and learning what are the rules, and how to adhere to them is valuable."

The students were tasked to build a concrete canoe that could float and do anything a normal wood or fiberglass canoe can do. After testing an untold number of mixtures of cement, water, sand, and glass beads, the group applied the concrete to a fiberglass mesh mold, which strengthened the canoe.

In addition to the construction of the canoe and its performance in the water, the students also had to prepare presentations for a panel of judges, defending the reasons for their canoe design and the concrete mixtures they used. This was just one of the aspects of the competition that carried real-world application for the students.

"In the future, they are going to be managing a project; something expensive, something important. And they've got to get it right," Harris said. "They won't have a chance to mess up in the engineering world. That was a real-world application, working under tight deadlines and tight budgets, trying to do everything in the most inexpensive way possible, presenting and making presentations, trying to defend it before a panel judges and defend themselves were all important."

"The more experience you have in the field, the better engineer you become," added Jim Lawrence, a Mechanical Engineering faculty member. "By doing a project like this they get to see that there is more to it than just the calculations. When you get in there, the hands-on things are different, the processes are different, so you learn to see how a project really works and how to deal with problems that arise."

The group performed well in all aspects of the competition, and looks forward to next year as they continue to improve and prepare for their futures as engineers.