Texas State student takes third at engineering competition

By Meagan Singletary
University News Service
June 11, 2008

Erik Larson finished third and won $150 in the Society for the Advancement of Material and Process Engineering’s Super Light Weight Bridge Building Contest in Long Beach, Calif., on May 20 at the organization’s 11th annual conference and exhibition.

Texas State’s Dmitri Kabakov, originally from Israel, also participated in the contest. This is a landmark accomplishment because it is the first year that anyone representing Texas State has competed. The objective of this competition was to build the most weight-efficient bridge.

“It’s weight divided by how much load it can handle. You couldn’t just build the biggest, heaviest strongest bridge because they have to be efficient,” said Larson, a Sugar Land native and manufacturing engineering and applied mathematics senior.

Students participating had the choice of four different categories of materials to use to create their bridges: Kit and non-kit carbon, kit glass and non-kit natural fiber. SAMPE gave students the option of working with materials from a kit provided by SAMPE or students could work with non-kit materials which they would provide for themselves. Both Larson and Kabakov opted to enter the natural fiber section, creating their bridges out of hemp with help from their advisors Jitendra Tate, assistant professor in manufacturing engineering and Shane Arabie, technician in the school of engineering.

“We chose hemp because we knew that it was one of the strongest natural fibers,” said Larson. “It was really difficult for us to find different kinds of woven fabrics, especially with hemp because it’s still illegal to grow it in the United States. The nearest places that grow it are Canada and Europe, but oddly enough we found it at the hemp store right here in town.”

Larson credits his success to lots of research, testing and trial and error. Putting forth the time and effort it takes to participate in an event of this kind was especially difficult because both students work while simultaneously studying engineering. Kabakov is also a student athlete who competes in pole vaulting.

“I run back and forth from the stadium to campus,” said Kabakov, manufacturing engineering senior. “It’s really challenging but this is the beauty of being a student athlete: Trying to manage academics and athletics and do well in both of them.”

Kabakov said how advantageous participating in competitions like the bridge building contest can be for Texas State’s recently established engineering program.

“It was our first time to participate and we felt very competitive,” said Kabakov. “It was very beneficial. It is the only way that we can show that our school is valuable and that our program is valuable.”

SAMPE is active in supporting student participation in research. The organization also offers students the opportunity to enter the university research program where students have the chance to compete for a slot to present their research during the conference. There are three divisions: undergraduate, masters and doctoral.

“It is actually a big honor to participate in this competition,” said Kabakov.