Engineering the 'Impossible': students win concrete canoe competition

Members of the winning team and supporters stand with Osiris, a concrete “green” canoe. Sixty percent of the glass used in the concrete mix was recycled from deposits made on Poly’s campus.


Polytechnic’s Student Chapter of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) has once again made the seemingly impossible possible by creating a fully-functional canoe out of the unlikeliest of materials: concrete.

On the weekend of April 26, students took their concrete canoe, which they have been tirelessly designing, building, and testing since the fall, to the Metropolitan Regional Concrete Canoe Competition where they won first place – the third first-place win in Poly’s history of competing in the contest.

Eugene Fuks, the team’s captain, and his teammates, Margaret Cwikla, Thomas Moorhoff, Minelly DeCoo, Shivani Patel, Kaliaeja Taylor and Jennifer Salazar, beat out Rowan University, Cooper Union and New Haven University.

With its win, the team is headed to Montreal to represent the Metropolitan Region at the National Concrete Canoe Competition which will be held June 19-21. “With each trip to the national competition, the team's comparative inspirations increase, leading to more innovative designs that surpass the canoes of previous years,” reads the ASCE Student Chapter web site. This year, the team’s goal was to incorporate recycled materials to make the most environmentally friendly canoe yet.

How to build a winning and green concrete canoe
In principle – Archimedes’ to be precise – concrete canoes float for the same reason that cruise ships and barges do: the weight of the water they displace is greater than their own weight.

At the start of the school year, the Poly team combined that principle with civil engineering concepts to begin designing the hull (the shape of the canoe) and the mix (the “recipe” for the concrete).

“[We] wanted to emphasize innovation in materials used as well as construction techniques,” says Mr. Fuks. “In order to do this [we] incorporated green technology and the use of glass as an aggregate within its mix design with assistance from Professor Weihua Jin who has studied and researched glass-crete technology for years.”

 Sixty percent of the glass used in the final mix came from Poly students, faculty and staff who deposited bottles and other glass containers in the school’s cafeteria. The team combined the mix with an inner light-weight core to create an ideal balance of weight and strength.

“Polytechnic hopes to go to nationals with a truly unique, well-engineered and green canoe,” says Mr. Fuks.

Why build a concrete canoe?
For good reason, the idea of a concrete canoe is intriguing. For the civil engineering students involved in the actual building of a concrete canoe, it’s much more than an idea; it’s a practical, hands-on application of the engineering, teamwork, and project management principles they learn in the classroom.

“Students put into practice many of the theoretical concepts that they learn in their civil engineering courses such as reinforced concrete design, structural analysis, materials engineering and construction management, among others,” explains the team’s faculty advisor, Industry Associate Professor Jose M. Ulerio.

Additionally, concrete is a ubiquitous building material – it’s used everywhere from our sidewalks and highways to our homes and office buildings. Understanding its properties and learning how to design with it is crucial for a civil engineering student's education.

Visit Poly’s ASCE Student Chapter web site to see pictures from the concrete canoe competition and learn about the Steel Bridge Competition, another ASCE activity that challenges students to solve real-world engineering problems.