Engineers win toboggan race

Concrete and toboggans may sound like an odd pairing, but it
was a winning combination for University of Calgary Engineering students.

On Feb. 2, a team of U of C students traveled to Regina to participate in the Great Northern Concrete Toboggan Race 2000, a yearly five-day event where students showcased personally-designed concrete-based sleds.

"It’s an engineering competition with schools across Canada and the US," said fourth-year Civil Engineering student David Nish. "We have to submit a technical report, and then there’s a race. Basically, it’s a lot of fun."

The U of C was one of 18 universities represented at the event, where sleds were evaluated based on both their design and their performance. In the end, the U of C team took the top honours–the first time since 1989.

"We were first overall this year," said Nish. "We also won for the People’s Choice and Best Braking."

The team was composed of 33 students from the departments of civil, mechanical and chemical engineering.

"Basically, we put the word out: whoever wants to come, come to the first meeting," said Nish. "We had one of the largest teams there."

Evaluation took place over a two-day period. On the first day, toboggans were displayed for a group of judges.

"There’s one day of technical exhibition, which is kind of like a big science fair," said fourth-year Civil Engineering student Jason North. "We were judged by people from industry and professors."

In addition to being judged on the qualities of the sled, teams were evaluated on the sled’s aesthetic display.

"Every team has a theme," said Nish. "Our theme was ‘Ghost-boggan’, as in Ghostbusters. Our outfits were like coveralls from the movie, and our sled was designed like Ecto-1."

The race took place the following day, where teams received points based on the sled’s race time, top speed and braking deceleration.
Students taking part in the project had to build a sliding surface out of concrete, as well as the structure and braking system of the sled. Finding a solution to these problems took several months of effort.

"We built a steel frame superstructure and attached a concrete slab to the bottom," said Nish. "We also had to build a braking system."
"Design was through Oct. into January," added Nish. "It’s a full term undertaking."

The team was funded through donations offered by several Calgary companies, including Lafarge Canada, CANA Construction, Inland Concrete, and Conforce Structures.

"The [race] provided excellent coverage of Lafarge to the future engineers of Canada and the us," said Lafarge spokesperson Kristen Bendickson. "The students are not only potential future employees, but also future potential users and specifiers of both our cement and concrete products."

Students involved emphasized the practical value of the experience.

"It’s a lot of fun, no doubt about it," said Nish. "It’s a great experience, and from an academic point of view, we were able to put our knowledge of civil engineering to use."

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