Creative Inquiry

Project Spotlights

Making Waves with the Clemson Concrete Canoe Team

Concrete and water do not mix well. But don't just take that as common knowledge. Next time you are near a body of water with a concrete block in hand, toss it in. Hopefully, that block wasn't anything important, because it's not resurfacing.

But perhaps it could. Perhaps, if some clever engineering was involved. Sound impossible? Ask the Clemson Concrete Canoe Team, who has been doing the impossible year after year. The Creative Inquiry team, nicknamed 3CT, is a group of civil engineers who share the same goal: to create a seaworthy vessel made of a very heavy material that can handle a paddling team in competition.

That, however, is just the end product. An entire year's worth of work goes into the design and construction of the canoe, with a close crew of around 15 students putting in two to three work sessions a week through the fall and spring semesters. The design of the canoe allows the team to use their engineering know-how in parallel with software design programs, many of which allow for key variable measurements.

"In August, I created the hull design using a program that estimates the drag force," explained Richmond Lam, a junior civil engineer who has been with the team for two years. The hull is the main body of the canoe, and its shape is important to the vessel's life in water. "We have to build the form for the canoe," explained junior Taylor Nunamaker. "Once we get the mix design together, we actually place the form on the canoe."

It's not all statistics and computer programs, though. 3CT gets to show off its creativity in the aesthetic design, and it's important to the team that the canoe not only works well but also looks the part. "Last year, our theme was superhero. [The canoe was] called Opticon, because they were using a lot of the optical fibers…so that light could go through," explained Nunamaker.

While this can be a welcome invitation for originality, the team agrees that one of the more difficult aspects of the inquiry is project management. "You have to divvy up the responsibilities," explained Lam, which is a part of "just getting everything organized."

3CT hopes this teamwork will produce a strong showing at regionals, the necessary platform for a shot at nationals. The competitions are split up into four sections with three being determined by a panel of judges; the fourth non-judging section is the paddling race, the most exciting section for the team.

"Honestly, I think that's the most fun part, because it's not based on the judges," said Lam. Clemson has a strong history with the competition, especially in the late 90s and early 2000s when current faculty advisor Dr. Brad Putman was on the team. Putman helped Clemson win three national championships during his stint, with Clemson's last championship coming in 2002.

But beyond a winning record, the team is happy to utilize their engineering skills outside the classroom. "It's a hands-on project," explained Nunamaker. "It's more like a real life project than what you'll get in the classroom."

A common echo among the team members was the desire to be involved with a Creative Inquiry in the field of civil engineering, where real time and effort could create a product the team could support. Not only do the members get to practice vital civil engineering skills like structural analysis and construction design, they also experience the reality of working with others in pursuit of a common goal. This group dynamic is a lesson that can't be learned in the classroom.

The end of the academic year brings with it the completion of an engineering feat. Luckily, Clemson calls itself home to a group of dedicated and talented engineers that use their inclass knowledge to achieve a real-world goal. Building a concrete canoe may sound impossible, but 3CT carries the expertise to make it a reality.

By: Blake Calamas (Decipher Issue 2, Fall 2013)