The JPL Annual Invention Challenge is ready for its twelfth year. The title for this year's contest is the "Ton of Bricks Contest". The objective and rules are listed below. Questions related to this contest should be directed to: Paul MacNeal at work phone (818) 354-7824, FAX (818) 354-2284, M/S 126-347, located in Building 126-336, or e-mail to

OBJECTIVE: Create a cardboard bridge that spans 48 inches [1.219 m] and is able to support the weight of at least one brick (5.35 lbs each [2.43 kg]). The winner will be the team whose bridge has the highest efficiency which is calculated as the supported weight divided by the weight of the bridge.



1) The contest is open to all JPL employees, contractors, and immediate family members. The contest is also open to teams of students from Southern California middle schools and high schools providing that they have completed all required forms as outlined in rules 3 and 4 below.


2) Applications for JPL employees, contractors, and immediate family members entering the contest must be filled out and submitted to Public Services prior to midnight November 20, 2009. Completed entry forms should be directed to Public Services at FAX (818) 393-4641, or sent via email to An entry form is included at the end of the rules. All entries will be time stamped based upon the time received. Only the first 20 JPL/contractor entries will be permitted to compete. Five alternates will be accepted in case some entries withdraw prior to the competition.

JPL employee family members and friends are welcome to watch the contest, but must be cleared through the security office prior to arrival. JPL employees must fill out the visitor request form as found in the link: http://eis/international/visitrequest.html.


3) In order to streamline the paperwork process at JPL, each team must mail their completed student team entry form (attached) and the "Authorization and Release for Photos and/or Video Recording" agreement form (attached) for each person (student, guest, teacher, and chaperone) planning to attend the JPL contest. Each video release form must be completely filled out and signed. If the student is under 18 years of age, then their parent or guardian must also sign. The entire set of forms must be filled out and submitted to Public Services no earlier than September 7, 2009 and be postmarked no later than midnight October 2, 2009. Completed forms must be mailed to Public Services at Jet Propulsion Laboratory, M/S 186-113, 4800 Oak Grove Drive, Pasadena, CA 91109. All entries will be time stamped based upon the time received. Student teams will be notified to verify their acceptance into the contest by October 7, 2009. Questions regarding the entry forms can be directed to Maggie Porter in Public Services at (818)354-0112. Each school is allowed no more than three teams. Internal school competitions are encouraged to select the top three teams if necessary.

Any foreign student (18 or over) or adult will need to fill out a special form which is processed by the Public Services Office. The process takes nearly three weeks, therefore, if you plan on attending the contest at JPL, and you are a foreign national, it is important that you contact Public Services prior to November 6, 2009.

Additions or corrections to the registration forms and/or photo release forms need to be mailed to the Public Services Office with a postmark no later than Thursday, December 3, 2009. Faxed forms will not be accepted. Failure to send in the signed video release form by the requisite time will prevent participation and access to the JPL contest for those students that fail to comply with this request.

4) Only the first 75 student team entries will be permitted to compete at the regional competitions. Student teams will compete at a regional competition held on Saturday, November 22, 2008 at California State University in Fullerton or Manual Arts High School in Los Angeles. Details for the regional competitions will be sent to all registered teams. The top five winners of each regional competition will be invited to compete at the JPL contest held on Friday, December 12, 2008 (see Rule 5 below). In addition, the next closest 15 entries between both regional competitions will be invited to compete at the JPL contest.


5) The date and time for the final contest is Friday, December 11, 2009 between 11:30 AM and 1:00 PM. The contest is held at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, 4800 Oak Grove Drive, Pasadena, CA 91109. The contest area is located north of the fountain area, in front of the Administration Building (Bldg. 180) steps. The contest will be held rain or shine, but will be covered from the rain for obvious reasons. Check-in for the event will begin at 10:15 AM.


6) The bridge must have the following characteristics:
a) Be made from cardboard or paper products and reasonable amounts of adhesive. The list of acceptable materials is provided. Any materials used that are not listed below, will cause the entry to be disqualified. No exceptions!

(1) Paper of any weight or color without fiber reinforcement
(2) Card stock (any weight or color)
(3) Corrugated cardboard (any weight or color)
(4) Cardboard (any weight or color)
(5) Paint of any kind, ink, and pencil markings (for decoration only)
(6) White school glue
(7) Epoxy (any kind)
(8) Spray adhesive (any kind, but be mindful of the fumes during construction)
(9) Glue-gun glue (high temperature or low temperature, any kind)
(10) Tube glues (silicone, filler, caulk, etc.)
10) Rubber cement
11) Glue Stick

b) Allow a small toy car (1" wide, 3" long, and 1" tall) to go along a straight line on a flat plane from one support to the other support.
c) Place the official entry number (3" high numbers) on at least two sides of the bridge for easy identification.
d) Be no wider than 18" [45.7 cm] and fit within the height profile shown in Figure 1.
e) Not contact the supports (described in Rule 7) other than on the top surface of each support.
f) Not use any clamps, tape, or any other means to attach to the supports. The bridge must only rest on the top surface of the supports before and during the load application.
g) Allow a standard common brick to be placed in the center span for loading. Each brick weighs 5.35 lbs [2.42 kg] and is approximately 3.875" wide, 2.25" thick, and 8.125" long. If the design is capable of carrying more than four bricks, then the bridge design must allow for a 10" [25.4 cm] diameter loading disc to rest on a flat level surface as described in Figure 1. In this case, the bridge design must allow easy access to this top surface in order to put the disc in place and secure the nut and washer to the threaded rod. Additionally, the bridge design must allow for a minimum of a 1" diameter cylindrical space underneath the center of the loading surface to allow a threaded rod to pass through (refer to Figure 1).
h) Not use any type of metal, plastic, or wood. Specific examples of disallowed materials include foamboard, Gatorboard, staples, tape, popsicle sticks, or nails. Refer to Rule 6a for approved materials.
i) Not intentionally use adhesives of any kind to fill the spaces inside corrugated cardboard. Bridges will be inspected after failure to verify that no hidden "pockets" of adhesive have been used.
j) Not use adhesives of any kind to be the principle component of a structural member (example: encasing a piece of cardboard in epoxy resin to make a beam is disallowed). The intent of the adhesives is to connect pieces of cardboard and/or paper to each other.
k) SPECIAL RULE FOR SCHOOL TEAMS ONLY: To avoid plagiarism, each team that competes at the regional contest must bring TWO identical bridges to the contest. The two bridges must have the same size (within 1/2" in all aspects), same appearance, and same weight (within 3% of each other). Both bridges will be weighed at the regional contests. The check-in judges at the regional contest will have the authority to approve or reject the determination of "identical" and the judge's decision is final. If a team's bridges are not deemed to be identical, the team will have an option to modify one or both bridges to bring them into "identical" compliance prior to the start of the contest. The team will be allowed to choose which bridge will be used at the regional contest and which bridge will be used at the finals (if selected, see Rule 5). The bridge deemed for the finals will be marked in a particular manner and photographed to preserve authenticity. If selected to compete at the finals, each team must bring the authorized bridge with the particular markings for the final competition. The team is allowed to modify their authorized bridge in the following manner:

(1) The bridge can be altered using approved materials (see Rule 6a) such that the total weight is within 10% (above or below) of the original weight as measured at the regional contest.
(2) The added or removed material can not cause the modified bridge to change its overall appearance or shape, and must maintain the original dimensions of the original bridge within ½" [12.7 mm]. The modified bridge must still comply with all of the rules regarding size and shape.
(3) Ideas for alterations that could potentially result in disqualification must be submitted to Paul MacNeal after the regional contest but prior to 5:00 PM on Tuesday, December 8, 2009. Paul MacNeal will determine if the alteration is acceptable or not within one business day after receiving the submittal. Figure 1: Overall dimensions of Bridge, Supports, and Brick Holder
Figure 1: Overall dimensions of Bridge, Supports, and Brick Holder

example image of figure 1 in detail


7) The contest site is outdoors in front of Building 180. There are three identical loading areas as described in Figure 1. Each loading area will have its own brick supply, brick holder (as needed), foam mattresses, and supports. Teams will need to move quickly to install their bridge onto the supports because the brick loading itself may take a long time. The support shall have the following characteristics:

a. The top surfaces of the two supports shall be level and planar to each other.
b. The inside edge distance between the two supports shall be between 48" [121.9 cm] and 48.5" [123.2 cm].
c. The design will be tall enough (approximately 48.0") to allow for the Brick Holder (See Rule 8) to be installed with the vertical clearances shown in Figure 1.
d. The top surfaces of the two supports shall be made of concrete block and shall have a rough surface finish typical of a 16" tall by 16" wide by 8" deep concrete block. The top surface shall be 16" wide and shall be 8" deep.



8) The Brick Holder is used if the bridge is capable of supporting the weight of more than four bricks (21.4 pounds [9.71 kg]). The Brick Holder is depicted in Figure 1. The Brick Holder weighs 21.4 pounds [9.71 kg] which includes the threaded rod, loading disc weight, and additional ballast to get the equivalent weight of four bricks. The plans shown in Figures 2, 3, and 4 can be used to create your own Brick Holder if desired.

Plans for Making Brick Holder

Supplies needed

(1) 18" x 24" x ½" plywood
(4) 2" x 2" x 15" stud
(2) 2" x 2" x 24" stud
(2) 2" x 2" x 18" stud
(4) 2" x 4" x 14" stud
(26) #10 x 1-1/4" wood screw
(20) #10 x 3" deck screw
(4) ¼" screw eye w/ washer and nut
(4) 10" long chain links
(6) close-out chain links
(1) ¼"-20 all-thread rod 16" long with washers and 2 nuts
(1) ¼" threaded screw eye with 2 nuts
(1) metal plate (10" diameter x 1/8" steel sanding disc is what I used)

Figure 2: Brick Holder List of Materials

base assembly

Figure 3: View from Below of the Base Plate portion of the Brick Holder

View from Below of the Base Plate portion of the Brick Holder
Top View and Side View of Brick Holder

Figure 4: Top View and Side View of Brick Holder

other view of brick holder


9) The order in which teams will participate is selected by a random process. The contestant and his/her team will be given a two minute period of time to set-up their bridge on the support. Strict time limits will be imposed to ensure that all contestants are able to operate their device.

Once the team has been introduced and has given a brief description of their team and their bridge, the field judge will ask the team how many bricks can be safely loaded without failure. This step is done to speed up the process of loading the bricks and it is up to the team to properly pick this value. If the bridge is capable of supporting more than four bricks, then the brick holder will be installed prior to loading any bricks. Bricks will be loaded as carefully as possible by designated brick layers to avoid any dynamic loading (i.e. as close to a static application as possible). After each brick is loaded, the bridge will be given an approximate 5 second count. If the bridge has not collapsed during this time, then additional bricks shall be loaded in the same manner until either the bridge collapses, or it has deflected more than 6.0" [15.2 cm]. When the bridge collapses or exceeds the 6.0" deflection, the brick loading will stop and the number of bricks (including four more if the brick holder was used) that were successfully supported by the bridge will be totaled and entered into the score sheet. The maximum number of bricks to be loaded onto the bridge is 40, which means that the maximum possible weight that will be added to the bridge is (40+4)*5.35 = 235.4 pounds [106.8 kg]. The field judge's decision is final for entering the brick total. Once the brick total has been finalized and entered into the scoring sheet the team will be asked to remove their bridge and place it in a designated viewing area as directed by volunteers.

The total number of bricks supported by the bridge will be converted into pounds. The efficiency rating of the bridge will be calculated by dividing the weight of the bridge into the weight supported by the bridge prior to collapse (does not include the weight of the bridge). This efficiency rating will be calculated to two decimal points and shall be recorded on the score sheet.


10) Trophies will be divided into two categories: JPL employees/family/contractor entries and school team entries. Trophies for highest efficiency rating will be given for first, second, and third place for each category at all contests (regional contests and the JPL contest). If two or more ratings are within 0.02 of each other than equal trophies will be awarded. Certificates will be issued for the lightest, heaviest, smallest, largest, most unusual, most artistic, and most creative designs.

› Download 2009 Rules and Forms