The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA


June 14, 2014

Concrete pursuit: UPJ engineering students ready to float their boat

— Does concrete float?

For engineering students participating in the 2014 National Concrete Canoe Competition, the answer is undoubtedly yes.

Twenty-three teams of engineering students from across the U.S. and China will compete for the America’s Cup of Civil Engineering on Thursday through Saturday.

The 27th annual competition will be held at Pitt-Johnstown and the Quemahoning Reservoir.

The canoe competition is being hosted by the Pitt-Johnstown Student Chapter of the American Society of Civil Engineers.

“(Concrete) absolutely does float,” said Brian Houston, associate professor of civil engineering technology at Pitt-Johnstown and team adviser.

“It’s not your normal concrete,” he said. “It’s not the concrete you make a patio out of.”

The substance is not made from sand and gravel but from glass microspheres (glass bubbles), Houston said. It just looks like sand and is lighter than water.

Students from schools as far as Shanghai will paddle their team-built concrete canoes in races and around obstacles to claim top honors.

Canoes and displays will be presented for judging and open to the public from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursday on the Campus Mall near Blackington Hall.

Technical presentations will be made from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday at the Pasquerilla Performing Arts Center on campus.

Races will begin at 8 a.m. Saturday at the Quemahoning Family Recreational Area, which can be accessed from Route 30 near Jennerstown.

Pitt-Johnstown students will paddle Essayons, a 211⁄2-foot-long canoe that’s 3 feet wide and weighs about 200 pounds.

Teams are evaluated based on the engineering design and construction principles; a technical design report that details the design, testing and construction of the craft; and the race portion of the competition.

It took about 30 students and 3,000 hours of labor to design and build Essayons. The craft’s name is French motto of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that means “Let us try.”

Ten team members will row the canoe.

It is the seventh time in eight years the Pitt-Johnstown team has made it to the national competition, Houston said.

Patrick Buchnowski is a reporter with The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on

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