Jordan Creek sixth-graders learn Iowa State concrete engineering

Jordan Creek Elementary School (West Des Moines, Iowa) sixth-graders mold concrete mortar during their April 30 visit to the Iowa State University Portland Cement Concrete and Materials Research Laboratory. Pictured from left are Nathan Buzzell, Zachary Smith, and Sam Harper.
Jordan Creek Elementary School (West Des Moines, Iowa) sixth-graders mold concrete mortar during their April 30 visit to the Iowa State University Portland Cement Concrete and Materials Research Laboratory. Pictured from left are Nathan Buzzell, Zachary Smith, and Sam Harper. (Photo courtesy of Emily Hanson/Jordan Creek Elementary School)

Forty-eight sixth-graders from Jordan Creek Elementary School of West Des Moines, Iowa, experienced cement concrete engineering April 30 at the Iowa State University Portland Cement Concrete and Materials Research Laboratory (PCC Laboratory).

Students mixed water, cement, and sand in 4-gallon plastic tubs to form concrete mortar. Later, all were clad in laboratory safety gear as they safely stood and watched a 4-inch-diameter, 8-inch-tall dried concrete cylinder, placed within a compression test chamber, smash under 100,000 pounds per square inch. Phrases like “epic field trip” and “I can’t even explain” were written in student thank-you letters following the workshop.

Emily Hanson, sixth grade teacher at Jordan Creek Elementary School, has brought her students to the PCC Laboratory since 2010. “By attending the workshop at the Portland Cement Concrete Laboratory, students see the important roles engineers play in our daily lives,” Hanson said. “The students have a much better understanding of civil engineering and know that it is a possible career choice.”

Bob Steffes, program manager of the PCC Laboratory who facilitated the lab visit, said that chaperones and teachers played an important role in guiding students to apply cement concrete knowledge. “This hands-on science experience introduces the geotechnical engineering field to students early,” Steffes said. “They’ll learn more of the technical skills as they consider the ISU civil engineering or construction engineering program.”

Steffes also talked about the environmental reasons for using fly ash, a waste product of coal production that can be used to strengthen highway concrete and make concrete less expensive to produce.

The PCC Laboratory was just one stop on an Iowa State University science tour. The adventure included a visit at the Office of Biotechnology DNA Facility, a meeting with Iowa State’s solar car team Team PrISUm, a session with the horticulture-turf management program, and an athletic training tour of Jack Trice Stadium.