UC Civil Engineering Students Prepare To Float Their Boats For Annual Concrete Canoe Competition

Here’s a quick quiz — which of the following will float?

(a) pumice rock

(b) a concrete canoe

(c) petrified wood

Well, under certain circumstances, they all float. Students in the department of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Cincinnati hope that the right answer for them will definitely be (b). This weekend they will be laying the foundation for those hopes as they pour their concrete canoe.

UC Hosts ASCE Competition in April

This year, UC will host the American Society of Civil Engineers 2005 Ohio Valley Regional Conference. Approximately 300 students from universities in Ohio, Kentucky and Pennsylvania will attend this three-day conference from March 31 through April 2, 2005, to promote civil engineering.

At the ASCE Ohio Valley Regional Conference, student teams from the universities will compete in the ASCE National Concrete Canoe Competition and National Steel Bridge Competition. The winner from our region advances to the national competition to be held summer 2005.

About the Competition

ASCE student chapters and clubs have been constructing and racing concrete canoes on the local and regional level since the 1970s. The first national competition was held in the summer of 1988. UC’s chapter has weekly meetings where industry professionals make presentations about the numerous disciplines of civil engineering (such as structural, construction, transportation, geotechnical and environmental engineering).

Students from UC work for approximately eight months designing, testing, building and racing their concrete canoe. Each school’s canoe is judged on four equally weighted categories: technical/design paper, oral presentation, quality of canoe construction and racing results. Every year UC works to build a concrete canoe that is innovative, fast and rower friendly in order to win the regional competition.

How a Concrete Canoe Can Float

How does a concrete canoe float? Archimedes’ Principle explains how a concrete canoe can float in water. The principle states that a body immersed in a fluid is pushed up by a force equal to the weight of the displaced fluid. The shape and position of the body affects the strength of the force pushing up on the body. For example, a concrete canoe placed on end in water will sink because the weight of concrete is much greater than that of the displaced water. However, in its normal position, the weight of the canoe depends on the total volume of the canoe because it includes all the air inside it. Therefore, the average weight is then less than that of water displaced, when the concrete and air are included for the total unit weight.

The total weight of the canoe, rowers and air inside the canoe’s volume must be less than the total weight of water that the canoe displaces. UC’s team starts each year in August by designing the shape of the canoe for four rowers. The canoe is approximately 20 feet long.

Next, the team experiments with different concrete mixes that weigh approximately 60 pounds per cubic foot, which is far less than the typical weight of concrete (which is approximately 145 pounds per cubic foot). The concrete used for the canoe weighs less because of the addition of Styrofoam and 3M Glass Bubbles that are used as aggregate instead of gravel. After choosing the strongest concrete mix, the team shapes a canoe-shaped Styrofoam form. The concrete is poured over the form in January to allow it to cure for months before the regional competition. The Styrofoam form of the canoe is then removed. The team practices racing for a month before the competition.

In 2004, the team placed fifth out of twelve teams at the regional conference, a great improvement over 2003 when the canoe cracked in half during a race. The team hopes to continue improving in this year’s conference.



About Civil Engineering

Cincinnati has many complex civil engineering projects underway and will have many more in the future, such as the replacement of the Brent Spence Bridge. Students participating in these competitions could possibly design and build many of these projects. For example, UC civil engineering graduates have designed buildings such as the Contemporary Arts Center and the current expansion of the Cincinnati Convention Center.

The national ASCE is very active with student chapters at universities across the country through conferences like the Ohio Valley Regional Conference and national competitions.

According to the American Society of Civil Engineers’ Web site, for the past 151 years, the ASCE has created opportunities for civil engineers to improve the national infrastructure. Their Web site also cites the heroic — and often dangerous — work done by civil engineers around the world, such as in Iraq because of the war and in the Indian Ocean countries in response to the tsunami.

“Today, ASCE members are building a better world, improving the quality of life, championing essential infrastructure, and advancing the Society to become a truly global organization.”

For more information, contact professor and advisor Dr. Gian Rassati at (513) 556-3696 or Gian.Rassati@uc.edu.

Related Links

Civil Engineering at the University of Cincinnati 

American Society of Civil Engineers

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