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Like the U.S. Olympic team, they are a group of young stars courted by scouts at aquatic events and stalked by paparazzi at World of Concrete. The engineering students who compete in the American Society of Civil Engineers' (ASCE) National Concrete Canoe Competition are the industry's next generation of leaders.
For 22 years, these students have paddled ahead of the mainstream. They are encouraged and guided by the ASCE's Committee on National Concrete Canoe Competition (CNCCC), a group of volunteers serving as governing officials and mentors.
Many CNCCC members are former students with experience building canoes, such as Mike Carnivale, a senior geotechnical engineer with Pennoni Associates Inc., a Philadelphia consulting engineering firm. He says that while the committee encourages innovation, it also steers students toward the realities of working with concrete.
“When I competed, you could have done almost anything with the concrete, as long as you built the best canoe,” Carnivale says. For instance, students painted their canoes until the committee began to suspect the thick paint might be holding some of the thin hulls together. Now they use acid stains to add color.
“The philosophy of the competition has evolved,” he says. “Now, we focus more on making sure the materials are all concrete-related and mimic what's going on in the industry.” The CNCCC regulates the water/cement ratio and air content, encourages using admixtures and fibers, and limits the amount of hydraulic cement (known for its waterproofing qualities).
Teams have used shotcrete, sheetcrete, hand-placed concrete, and self-consolidating concrete (SCC) poured into molds. They have worked with admixtures such as superplasticizers and air entrainers, polyvinyl alcohol (PVA) fibers, and supplemental materials such as slag, fly ash, silica fume, and metakaolin.
“Students are using finer aggregates and using pozzolanic materials like silica fume to create reactions at microscopic levels. They've probably gotten into nanotechnology without even realizing it,” Carnivale says.
The young engineers still push the envelope, but within the guidelines. n 2008, Drexel University's team won an innovation award for using fiber-reinforced SCC and building a canoe with no primary reinforcement. The team from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, decorated their hull with a mosaic of colored concrete tiles.