The Bridge Designer is a free educational software package designed to provide middle-school and high-school students with a realistic introduction to engineering through the design of a steel highway bridge.
The Bridge Designer has the look and feel of an industry-standard computer-aided design (CAD) package but is much easier to use. The software guides the user through the processes of:
- graphically creating a structural model;
- defining the material and mechanical properties of each member in the structure;
- running a simulated load test of the structure to determine if it is strong enough to carry a standard, code-specified highway loading;
- displaying a 3-D animation of the load test, with members color-coded to indicate tension (blue) and compression (red);
- graphically modifying the design to strengthen any inadequately designed members; and
- minimizing the cost of the design, by adjusting member properties or modifying the geometry of the structure.
The Bridge Designer’s integral simulation, animation, and real-time cost calculation features enhance learning by providing on-demand feedback. With a single button click, the user can determine if the design is successful (i.e., if it passes the load test) and if it is optimal (i.e., if its cost is as low as possible). Creating a successful design is simple, but creating an optimal design is quite challenging. Thus, the software offers an engineering design experience that is achievable by kids as young as fourth grade but still suitable for technologically savvy high school and college students.
Steve Ressler developed the first edition of the Bridge Designer, as part of a larger project to create a nationwide internet-based engineering competition for middle- and high-school students. Because this first edition was written in the Visual Basic programming language, it could only be run on Windows computers. But in 2011, Steve’s brother Gene Ressler (former Head of the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at West Point) rewrote the package in Java, so that it could be run on both Windows and Mac machines. Gene also set up the Bridge Designer as an open source project on SourceForge.
To download the Bridge Designer 2016 from SourceForge, use the appropriate link below and then run the setup file. These files are quite large, so please be patient.
Here’s a tutorial that will guide you through the creation and optimization of a bridge design using the 2014 edition of the Bridge Designer:
I just wanted to convey to you what a great, instructive, and user-friendly program this is for middle school students. All fifty sixth graders were able to design a working bridge on their own within twenty minutes of individual work time. This session motivated many to download the program at home and continue working and competing in their own time. The instant feedback that the contest gives about individual standings is fantastic. The bridge-building has caught on in many other grade levels throughout the school. Students are choosing to stay in during their recess time to design, and the math department has integrated the program into their classes as well. I wanted to convey to you the program’s success at our school and the enthusiasm it has created. I don’t know if we will generate any winners (!), but there are certainly many more eager engineers in our school!
~Elizabeth Lenox, Teacher, Holy Trinity School, Washington, D.C.
[The Bridge Designer] is a fantastic engineering simulation program that allows students to experience the challenges of efficient structural design. They have learned about the science of forces and loads, the importance of cost as a consideration and I’ve found the software to be an invaluable teaching tool.
~James Savage, Technology Education Teacher, Angola, IN
Your bridge building software is so superior to any of the commercial programs that it has become the standard program throughout the district. Thanks for sharing it.
~Barry Blutreich, Computer Teacher, Yonkers, NY
This is a super way to get these young kids introduced to construction, basic bridge design, technology, and research. I really appreciate it!
~Dr. Michael Edmondson, Lead Teacher, Science Department, Northside High School
When I take my class to the computer room, they are always working on the contest, even to the extent of forgoing their 5 minute break between classes when we have two physics classes in a row. They really like the program.
~John Parnell, Physics Teacher
I thank you for the tremendous piece of software you have created and the wonderful application it provides for my students and their learning. Thanks for your time and excellent tool you have provided for educators. My students have really learned a lot about engineering and some even are considering it for a career choice.
~Ben Curry, Physics Teacher, Yucca Valley, CA
It has proven to be a tremendous resource for me, not only in teaching engineering concepts, but also in creating enthusiasm in the students.
~David Honea, Engineering Teacher, W.G. Enloe Magnet High School
The software has been a fabulous success in our middle school program and I plan on introducing the software to our high schoolers. Keep in mind, all this with children who in some cases have significant learning disabilities.
First let me say what a great thing this is! You all have provided us a real-life opportunity to use some of the structural design lessons in a realistic manner. I have some students really pumped-up to do this.
~Stephen Marionneaux, Technology Education Teacher, Lexington, Kentucky
My students have been using the … bridge program for the past 3 or 4 years. They love it. It is much better than two ‘commercial’ programs I have purchased and used in the past. Whenever I do a Technology Education workshop I always pass out information on the bridge program to other teachers.
~Phil Monty, Technology Education Teacher, Willington, CT
I appreciate your contest because it helps [students] see the forces that are acting on the particular members of the bridge. The students say the software is user friendly and they have a lot of fun designing the bridges. Thank you for offering this opportunity to them.
~Debbie Bradford, Highland High School, Gilbert, AZ
This contest and software is a great way to introduce students to the idea of engineering trade-offs. It’s a great tool.
~Norman Burtness, Physics Teacher, West Hartford, CT
My students are not only enjoying the challenge of producing a bridge that will hold up the weight but are being very creative about doing it. Any free time in class is spent on the building of bridges. I have had a student tell me he stayed up till 2:00 a.m. working on it.
~John Barry, Seeger High School