Dartmouth Engineer - The Magazine of Thayer School of EngineeringDartmouth Engineer - The Magazine of Thayer School of Engineering

Random Walk: Engineering a Better Bonfire

Doug Van Citters
Courtesy of Doug Van Citters.

Faced with the prospect of losing the outdoor activity permit for the Homecoming bonfire due to ongoing safety issues, Dartmouth turned to engineering professor Doug Van Citters ’99 Th’03 Th’06 to increase the event’s predictability. The most important task: provide quantitative assurances that a new bonfire design would improve upon prior builds. “The re-engineered structure had to not only be appropriate for students to build while retaining its majesty,” says Van Citters, “but also fall in a more predictable fashion, despite nature’s unpredictability.”

Thanks in large part to Van Citters’ extensive use of engineering modeling techniques and slow-motion experimental analyses, town officials were sufficiently reassured and the looming specter of a denied permit was avoided.

“Dartmouth is full of people who love this place more thanrational thought would permit, and I’m proud to be one of them. Homecoming is bigger than any one experience, and this tradition is an example of building community without ever having to say that this is the purpose. Also, nobody can beat me at Jenga anymore.”

—Catha Mayor Lamm

Categories: Random Walk

Tags: bonfire, faculty, homecoming

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