EXHIBIT: Bridge Out

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Science  13 Dec 2002:
Vol. 298, Issue 5601, pp. 2097
DOI: 10.1126/science.298.5601.2097b

It's known as the “Pearl Harbor of engineering.” The Tacoma Narrows bridge in Washington state, the third longest suspension bridge in the world, collapsed in strong winds on 7 November 1940, just 4 months after it opened. Enlivened by period photos and eyewitness accounts, this exhibit from the University of Washington Libraries in Seattle chronicles the design disaster and its aftermath, from the planning of the original doomed span to the opening of a sturdier replacement in 1950.

The bridge showed signs of instability even during construction, and visitors would line up to cross the bouncy span as if it were an amusement park ride. By chance, an engineering professor who was studying ways to damp these movements was filming on the bridge when it began pitching and twisting violently. Along with stills from his footage, the site features other eye-catching shots of the bridge's death throes. After the fall, investigators concluded that the bridge was too flexible to withstand the 67-km-per-hour winds blowing that day, motivating engineers to scrupulously test the design of the successor in a wind tunnel.


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