Team Awesome from the Waldorf School

Image caption: Team Awesome from the Waldorf School

Credit: Will Kirk / Johns Hopkins University

STEM Education

Spaghetti showdown: Annual contest gets students noodling around

National Engineers Week competition pits area middle schoolers against Hopkins undergrads to build the tallest tower out of pasta and marshmallows

Pasta and marshmallows are an unlikely duo, yet each February at the Whiting School of Engineering they unite young engineers in a test that defies gravity. The challenge: Construct the tallest tower using only one box of uncooked spaghetti noodles and two bags of marshmallows.

The annual Tower of Power is regarded as a signature event of the Whiting School's National Engineers Week celebration. This year's event, held on Wednesday at the Glass Pavilion, saw teams from Baltimore middle schools battling fiercely against Johns Hopkins undergraduates to forge their best spaghetti skyscraper in 30 short minutes, with some of the youngest students taking this year's top prize.

In his opening remarks, Ed Schlesinger, dean of the Whiting School of Engineering, welcomed middle school teams from the Waldorf School of Baltimore, Notre Dame Preparatory School, McDonogh School, Our Lady of Mount Carmel School, and Maryvale Preparatory School, calling them "skilled engineers and formidable competitors."

He wasn't kidding. The young engineers arrived with carefully considered game plans, ready to execute—and win. Their strategies relied on sequences of squares and triangles, which in theory, would sustain their spaghetti structures surpassing the half-hour time crunch.

Team Awesome from the Waldorf School of Baltimore saw triangles as a key component of their game plan.

"We'll be using equilateral triangles, because they don't move," said team member Elia. Initially, she—along with teammates Ala and Marcin—was unsure about their chances of winning. However, that strategy proved fruitful: They constructed a pasta pyramid taller than themselves, with the final result measuring a whopping—and winning—70 inches. They bested both their middle school peers and their Hopkins undergrad challengers for a prize consisting of beanies, fanny packs, and other Hopkins gear.

JHU's Society of Women Engineers continued its tradition of hosting the event, with the goal of uplifting and inspiring engineers of all ages.

"It's always exciting to see kids come to a college campus to compete against college students," said Darby Bankoski, a sophomore mechanical engineering student and co-outreach leader of SWE. "The swag bags for the winners are pretty cool, too."

STEM Challenge Club, the team from Our Lady of Mount Carmel School, entered the competition armed with a detailed strategy to achieve a tower of great stature.

"We're making four-by-four squares of spaghetti that will cross brace the outside, connecting into triangles, and keep adding support," said members Luke, Cole, and Jack. Though the team had practiced three times already this year and had high hopes for their spaghetti and marshmallow fortress, their structure ended up measuring 33 inches tall. However, it earned the Dean's Choice award for creativity due to its "nonconforming nature."