Building bridges with Lego

Matt Chase, Sci ’06, and Nick Bronsema, Sci ’06, will attempt to build a six-metre-long Lego bridge in January.
Matt Chase, Sci ’06, and Nick Bronsema, Sci ’06, will attempt to build a six-metre-long Lego bridge in January.

Six engineers out to break a record are asking the public to dig through their childhood toy chests.

The team is working to accumulate enough Lego blocks to build a bridge spanning up to six metres—surpassing efforts of a previous team who built a three-metre bridge.

But that’s not their only goal.

“It’s really about doing something incredible, more than breaking a record,” said team captain Matt Chase, Sci ’06.

He said the team is ready to engage in child’s play as a way of giving back to the community.

Chase explained the bridge—which the team will build in January—will be left intact for a week before it’s disassembled for a tour of Kingston elementary schools and First Nations reserves. At each stop, the team will hold workshops on bridge design.

Chase said workshop attendees will have an opportunity to interact with the Queen’s students while learning simple engineering principles. He added the method has the hands-on appeal of Lego.

When the tour ends, all the Lego will be donated to the schools the team visited in First Nations communities.

“A few years ago our [civil engineering] professor Luke Bisby told us about a German corporate group who built a three-metre Lego bridge as a team-building exercise,” Chase said. “He challenged us to beat their record and asked the class if we were interested.

“We’re hoping that our bridge will be strong enough to walk over, too.”

Chase said he and friends Nick Bronsema, Sci ’06, and Christian Dover, Sci ’05, were ready for that challenge. A hiring process soon followed, enlisting the help of fellow engineers Becky Mardell, Anne Kloosterman, Elise Reel and Brant Oldershaw.

“We’ll build our bridge as big as space and number of Lego pieces will allow,” Chase said, adding that about six metres is the team’s target. “But if we find that we’re able, we’ll go bigger.”

The group got started early last March. Chase said they worked hard throughout the summer to prepare to raise the funds necessary to purchase the more than 500,000 blocks required for the bridge’s construction.

He said the team has so far focused on securing Lego donations from both the Queen’s and Kingston communities, because without donations he estimates the project will cost $21,000. They hope to offset some of those costs by publicizing the event and generating an awareness of the cause, he said. “We’ve asked local businesses and Canadian engineering firms for financial help, but our main goal is to foster direct community interest and support,” Chase said. “We’ll take whatever Lego you’ve got.”

The bridge will be constructed over the course of a January weekend in the ILC. Chase said the team invites anyone who donated Lego to come and take part in the building process, which is another effort to involve the community.

“[Oldershaw] will be directing the building process, as he’s our main designer,” Chase said. “We hope to have well over 100 hands-on volunteers working alongside us.” Chase said the team will then head up north to give to communities that have historically received far too little.

“We [want] to go to northern Ontario because it’s definitely a neglected area, one that would surely benefit from any support we can offer,” he said.

Chase said although the Lego bridge tour is months away, the response from First Nations communities has been extremely positive.

Based on early replies, Chase estimated 15 or more schools will take part in the Lego workshops this winter.

Chase said the team is asking students to look around their basements for old Lego, especially if they are returning home for the Thanksgiving long weekend. He said although the bridge will be constructed only of standard rectangular Lego blocks, all other types of Lego will be graciously accepted at the donation locations.

“We’re only using the standard blocks to build the bridge, but whatever else we get we’ll still be donating to the First Nations schools,” he said.

Lego donation bins are located in the EngSoc Office in the ILC, and will soon be supplemented by bins at local Tim Hortons locations and Loblaws. Donations will also be accepted at the Homecoming Sidewalk Sale on Sept. 23.

E-mail with any questions about the project.

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