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STEM SIGHTS: The Concordia students who build concrete canoes

Three teammates share their secrets for staying afloat
February 7, 2017
By Andrew Jeyaraj

Concordia's first ever concrete canoe team (above) competed in the national competition last year. Concordia's first ever concrete canoe team competed in the national competition last year.

Concrete isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when we think of buoyant objects. But thanks to Archimedes’ epiphany, massive oil tankers, cruise liners and other incomprehensibly large vessels are able to sit gracefully on water.

The Concordia Concrete Canoe Team is well on its way to perfecting the art of making things float. After a strong showing by the university at last year’s national competition, a brand new team is aiming to make its mark this May. Nicolas Yedynak, Sabih ul Islam and María José Grasso are the captains spearheading this year's effort.

‘We’re combining design, engineering, athletics, artistry and management’

What is the objective of the project?

Nicolas Yedynak: To construct a canoe out of reinforced concrete that not only floats, but can also hold four people. We plan on bringing this canoe to the Canadian National Concrete Canoe Competition in May, hosted by Laval University. For the competition we are also required to build a display booth, canoe stand, cutaway section, as well as a presentation and report.

All aspects of the project are considered when ranking the teams, including the workmanship of the canoe, the race results and the quality of our presentation and report. It’s important to put effort into all areas of the project if we want to be competitive.

How do these specific images (above) relate to your work at Concordia?

NY: Pictured on the left is the mould that we will use to cast our canoe. It was cut from two-inch thick Styrofoam insulation and it will be sanded down to the final shape of the canoe. Once the concrete has hardened, we remove the Styrofoam from inside, leaving behind a concrete shell. The picture on the right shows Tonia, a member of our concrete mixing team, in action.

How does a concrete canoe float?

Sabih ul Islam: We use the law of buoyancy discovered by Archimedes over 2,000 years ago. It says an object experiences an upward force equal to the weight of the water it displaces.

We try to make our canoe large enough so that it displaces water of weight equal to at least four paddlers and the canoe. We accomplish this by developing a concrete mix that is lighter than water. Instead of using typical aggregates in the concrete like rocks and sand, we use tiny glass spheres that have a very low density.

What are some of the challenges that the team faces in this project?

NY: The main challenges are related to the time constraints. Anyone who studies civil engineering knows that it takes 28 days for concrete to reach its maximum strength. Therefore, we need to cast our canoe at least a month before the competition. That being said, there is a lot of work to be done before our competition in May, and it’s vital to keep the team motivated and on track.

Other challenges involve space requirements. The canoe is very big — almost 20 feet — and trying to find space to work at Concordia is very hard. The tight turns in the basement of the Henry F. Hall Building actually had a huge influence on the way we constructed our mould.

What person, experience or moment in time first inspired you to get involved in this work?

NY: I’ve always been an outdoorsy person. Pairing a passion of mine with my studies is a really great opportunity. This project is unique as it combines design, engineering, athletics, artistry and management into one. I really enjoy the athletic aspects, while the management and engineering provide a great deal of challenge.

What advice would you give to students interested in joining this field?

NY: I’d encourage interested students to contact us in September, when we start work for next year’s competition. We welcome first-year students, as well as those more senior. First-years in particular will be the ones running the project in the future. Therefore we want to pass down as much knowledge as possible before then.

I hope I can visit Concordia in a few years and see how far the team has progressed and how many students have benefitted from participating in it.

What do you like best about being at Concordia?

María José Grasso: Concordia gives all the tools and support necessary for students to succeed, no matter where they come from. In addition to the more traditional, textbook-centered learning, students are keen to be exposed to hands-on and engaging activities. These kinds of projects help educational institutions introduce their students to work in the industry.

Find out more about Concordia’s Department of Building, Civil and Environmental Engineering.

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