HEAVY-DUTY MAKERS – Left to right: Juniors Will Andon, Vincent Polhemus, and Andrew Peary pose in Mack Hall with the “Partridge,” the roughly 400-pound concrete canoe they built as sophomores. (Photos and collage by Mark Collier.)

And, yes, it floats.

The Norwich Record | Summer 2019

Last year, civil engineering majors Vincent Polhemus ’20, Will Andon ’20, and construction management major Andrew Peary ’20 built this 21-foot, four-person canoe and entered it in the American Society of Civil Engineers Concrete Canoe Competition. The rook brothers didn’t gain a single credit hour for the estimated 1,000 hours of work they put into the project. It was all done for fun.

This year, Polhemus and his team, aided by a dozen freshmen, went full-NASCAR in their quest to shave weight. The big leap forward: lightweight, high-performance concrete of their own formulation. By adding hardened shale (baked and expanded at 2,600° Fahrenheit) and small beads of recycled polystyrene foam covered in the anti-static coating, they could produce concrete that was 45 percent lighter. “It’s very lightweight, and it’s still pretty strong,” Vincent says, noting its 2,600-pounds-per-square-inch rating.

So why build a canoe from concrete? Professor Ed Schmeckpeper chairs the Department of Civil Engineering at the David Crawford School of Engineering and has advised the project in the past. He says the main benefit is the challenge of using conventional materials in unconventional ways. The contest also demands skills engineering majors will need in their future careers: teamwork, design, technical writing, problem solving, budgeting, and time management. There are no extensions, after all. Your boat floats, or it doesn’t.


Engineering at Norwich

Norwich University Perspectives Project: COVID-19

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