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Civil & Environmental Engineering undergraduates host successful 2012 Ohio Valley Student Competition

PITTSBURGH  (April 19, 2012) … Undergraduate student members of the University of Pittsburgh American Society of Civil Engineers Student Chapter hosted a successful 2012 Ohio Valley Student Conference (OVSC) on March 29-31, 2012 at the University's Swanson School of Engineering.

More than 330 students from 14 different schools across western Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Kentucky participated in this annual competition that provides civil engineering students the opportunity to solve a unique design problem and create the solution with their hands. From building a concrete canoe or a balsa wood bridge, to tossing concrete horseshoes and developing environmental treatments using only household products, the competition engages the students' ingenuity, creativity and ability to work as teams.

This year's participating colleges and universities included Carnegie Mellon University, Cincinnati State Technical and Community College, Cleveland State University, Geneva College Ohio State University, Ohio University, University of Akron, University of Cincinnati, University of Kentucky, University of Louisville, University of Pittsburgh, Western Kentucky University, and Youngstown State University.

"The OVSC has been an annual tradition at Pitt, and we were very proud to host this year's event," noted Radisav Vidic, PhD, P.E., William Kepler Whiteford Professor and Chair of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. "The competition provides an opportunity for our students to not only develop practical solutions to seemingly complex problems, but also to work on projects that can have an impact on society, such as infrastructure improvements and environmental solutions."

Environmental ingenuity born in the grocery store

Students from the Swanson School's Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering developed the OVSC's Environmental Competition, under the direction of Research Assistant Professor Jason D. Monnell.  The goal of the environmental competition was to remove Barium from a blind Marcellus Shale flowback-produced water in the most sustainable, creative, and cost effective way possible. Flowback water is the water initially recovered after hydraulic fracturing natural gas wells. The water consists of injected fluids that spent several days to several weeks underground. The flowback water can include soil, salt, metals, and chemicals.

Flowback water is usually characterized by high salinity and high amounts of Total Dissolved Solids (TDS). These levels of salinity are difficult to remove and can represent economic and environmental challenges to address the by-product in a sustainable manner.

As an added challenge to make the process not only effective but sustainable, competitors could only purchase the active treatment ingredients from a grocer, home improvement or drug store.

In addition to the sustainability component, judges also scored on creativity, which was supplementary to the actual physico-chemical requirements for the product to be tested - pH, turbidity, and Barium content.

"I congratulate our students for developing and hosting a successful Conference," Dr. Monnell said. "This is a well-regarded event for engineering undergraduates throughout the Ohio Valley, and our students truly set the bar high for next year's Conference in Ohio."

Pitt students Angela Anderson and Matthew Gilfillan drafted the rules for the competition; Angela and Kyle Freehart competed and came in 2nd place using conventional bath salts and a minimalistic yet creative treatment mechanism. Matt Huddleston coordinated the actual competition and performed the physico-chemical testing. 

Concrete that floats

ASCE Student Organizations have been involved in constructing and racing concrete canoes on the local and conference level since the early 1970s, and the first National Competition began in 1988. The seemingly incongruous challenge of building a concrete canoe that floats has a practical application in the competition. The ASCE designed the event to provide civil engineering students an opportunity to gain hands-on, practical experience and leadership skills by working with concrete to understand its versatility, durability and practicality in everyday use.

The Concrete Canoe Competition, held at North Park Lake, required teams to build a 20-foot long canoe using recycled materials capable of withstanding competitive racing. Canoes were judged on aesthetics, racing, durability, technical paper, and an oral presentation.  Youngstown State placed first and qualified for the national competition, with Western Kentucky University in second, and the University of Akron taking third. 

The Swanson School's concrete canoe team set out to develop a concrete mixture that incorporated a sustainable use of materials yet light enough to float in water and still meet the necessary strength requirements. To ensure the canoe, which they christened  Pittsburgh Pride , would have the necessary structural integrity, a structural analysis was performed using the finite element method.  Once the mixture and structural design was complete, the canoe was constructed. 

"The concrete canoe competition provides students with an opportunity to work with all of the components typically encountered in a civil engineering project….design, materials, construction, sustainability and cost analysis," explains Julie M. Vandenbossche, PhD, assistant professor of geotechnical and pavements engineering. "However, it's equally important to opportunity to have fun and make friends while developing skills in leadership and working within a team, the foundation of any successful engineer."

Winning the game

First place winners included:

·         AutoCAD  Cleveland State University,

·         Balsawood Bridge - Ohio State University

·         Concrete Horseshoes - University of Akron

·         Environmental - University of Kentucky

·         Steel Bridge Competition - University of Akron

·         Surveying - University of Pittsburgh

·         Sustainable Design - Ohio State University

·         Technical Paper - Western Kentucky University

The Swanson School of Engineering competed in all competitions and came in third place overall. Besides finishing first in the Surveying competition, Pitt placed sixth in Steel Bridge, fifth in Concrete Canoe, second in Environmental, second in Sustainable Design, and Fourth in the Technical Paper.

Pitt's OVSC organizing committee was expertly lead by Matt Gilfillan and supported by a strong group of members including: Monica Bell, Dr. Dan Budny, Mike Carretta, Natalie Celmo, Mike Cinciripini, Marshall Davis, Jacob Helman, Matt Huddleston, Dr. Anthony Iannacchione, Caitlin Mehall, Dr. Jason Monnell, Matt Morrone, Sam Scalzo, Krista Stippelmans, Dan Stauffer, Abigail Stein, Matt Tamrowski, Dr. Julie Vandenbossche, and Jennifer Welton. With the competition ended, the students now look forward to the national competitions this fall as well as next year's OVSC competition at Cleveland State University, April 4-6, 2013.


Contact: Paul Kovach