Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Physics behind Famous Bridge Collapses
Posted by Sean at 3:19 PM The Physics behind Famous Bridge Collapses: The history of bridge construction, both successful and unsuccessful, dates back thousands of years. In fact, both the Greek and Roman empires contributed greatly to the engineering of bridges and support systems. The people of this time not only guided us to understand the necessary materials for bridges, but more importantly the physics needed to keep a bridge up and sturdy. Since the time of the Greeks and Romans, many bridges have been built and many have fallen. However, only the spectacular and deadly bridge collapses are the ones we remember and the ones in which we point fingers. Just who is to blame for the collapse of the Tacoma Narrows, Schoharie Creek and Sliver Bridges, just to name a few? In order to understand the engineering faults leading to bridge failure we must understand the forces (stresses) acting upon a bridge every time a car passes over. There are three main stresses in particular and six bridge designs that attempt to dissipate such stresses. These stresses include a tensile stress, better known as tension, a compressive stress and a shear stress.

Each stress is self explanatory; the tensile stress has a force at each end moving in opposite directions, thus pulling each way from the center creating tension. The compressive stress consists of forces at each end of an object pushing toward the center creating compression. Finally, the shear stress is forces acting in opposite directions along a parallel plane. The most common example of shear stress would be when earth’s plates move across one another creating an earthquake.

As the diagram above demonstrates, the existence of these stresses may wear on an object to the point of collapse. Here is where the job of the engineer becomes vital; he/she must create

It didn’t help that the engineers built the bridge so light either. the cables were anchored at each end. Tacoma Narrows Bridge Collapse Perhaps the most memorable bridge collapse was the Tacoma Narrows Bridge on November 7. The reason suspension bridges could carry such large loads was that it distributed the weight through several tension cables into the ground at several anchorage . This allowed for the tension in the cables due to the weight of the cars and road to be conveyed into the ground. The reason the Tacoma Narrows Bridge did not last is that engineers never considered aerodynamics and wind forces. and supported in the middle by several raised towers. As the diagram above shows. The purpose of the suspension bridge was to carry rather large amounts of weight over large spans. both of whom were larger than the Tacoma Narrows. which added both a compression and tension force to the bridge. The bridge had only been operating for four months and even before its collapse was famous for its swaying and rippling. the cantilever. or spreads the forces along a wider area so that anticipated force/ stresses do not cause a collapse of the structure. then back to tension causing galloping oscillations of the deck or road. The material holding the deck during these vigorous movements finally tensed to a point of collapse and the bridge went down. The others were the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco and New York’s George Washington Bridge. There are six designs which have been used to distribute loads on bridges historically: the beam. Without the weight of the bridge to dapper the oscillations they could be very intense. For the sake of discussing historical mishaps. The Tacoma Narrows Bridge was one of three famous suspension bridges operating around that time. In fact the bridge obtained the nickname “Galloping Gertie” for its consistent galloping movement when weather was bad. the cable-strayed and the truss bridge. Every time the wind blew at strong gusts the tension force of the cables would be overcome by compression. The video link below shows the Tacoma Narrows Bridge as it “gallops” and eventually collapses: http://link. the suspension. the arch. we will only explore those designs that have specifically failed and why.history.a support system which distributes. 1940.

" . The problem with the Mianus Bridge was that a lack of maintenance and repair allowed for one hanger to rust through forcing all stress on one side. The beam design is different from other designs in that it endures all three stresses in a major way. at least those built out of concrete. The pin and hanger design below shows this point where two separate sections of the bridge are bolted so that if shearing in one direction takes place the other bolt will hold against the movement. This is because truss bridges use triangular looking shapes of steel supports above the bridge to distribute loads to the anchors on each side of the bridge.Mianus Bridge Collapse As you can see there is another video within this link lower on the page. describing the Mianus Bridge collapse of 1983. According to bridge engineer expert William Miller "concrete is a very forgiving material. Minnesota was a steel deck truss bridge which eroded due to corrosive salt chemicals. and so it can stand up to a lot of cracking and wear. cannot. I-35 W Minneapolis Bridge Collapse The final bridge I will discuss was the most recent notable collapse of an American bridge. If the deck gives out in any way. This bridge used a beam design with pins and hangars to restrict shearing. This one side eventually gave out and the bridge collapsed killing 4 people. Since the bridge was a truss bridge there was nothing for the deck to fall upon other than the water below. the steel beams will not . bridges hold up to these chemical reactions. In almost all cases. As you see below the compression and tension stresses work along the center of each vertical post supporting the horizontal deck. Steel on the other hand. The I-35 bridge collapse in Minneapolis. The steel reacted chemically with both the pavement and salt to erode the deck and eventually collapse. When the stresses work their way to these posts the natural movement is for the posts to shear away from the horizontal deck.

00. Walsher. Time: http://www.1649423. Physics Principles with Applications Sixth Edition. Physics of Bridges. Retrieved December 01. New Jersey 07458: Pearson TFHRC: http://images.8599.time. (2007).10 people killed Frommer. Time: 0. A. Ultrasonic Inspection of Bridge Hanger Pins. Below is a simple model of a truss bridge. N.. A. F. Upper Saddle the uneven loads. G..ubc. Inc.92 people killed (Truss) November 1940 Tacoma Narrows hangerpins. Retrieved December 01. yet was never scheduled to be repaired.html? ultrasonic. D. NTSB: Design Errors Factor in 2007 Bridge Collapse.S. Why Do Bridges Fall? Retrieved December Inc. (2005). Kwong.htm&usg=__ztsrkfubhmtzwy3j6ulqz3hrrx8=&h=178&w=350&sz=4&hl=en&start =1&um=1&tbnid=voxl_gtigzhp6m:&tbnh=61&tbnw=120&prev=/ images%3fq%3dpin%2band%2bhanger%2bbridge%2bdiagram%26um%3d1%26hl%3den Lemonick. M.gif&imgrefurl=http://www. R. J. Retrieved December 01.46 people killed (Suspension) June 1983 Mianus Bridge..). (2008). hence the collapse of this Giancoli.physics. 2008 from None. (Ed.html. What is most interesting about the I-35 bridge is that it was deemed “structurally deficient” in 1990. M.0 people killed (Suspension) December 1967 Silver Bridge. C.. Inc. 13 deaths later! Additional Famous Bridge Collapses in History December 1876 Ashtabula River Bridge. Graybeal. Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration. (2006).tfhrc. Walther. A. It was however scheduled to be replaced in 2020. A. 2008 from U. . B.ppt.1858912.4 people killed April 1987 Schoharie Creek Thruway Bridge. Physics.00. & Waters. 2008 from Time.. D.ubc: imgres?imgurl=http://www. 2008 from Time..

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