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Lecture: 19th c. Suspension Bridges of John A. Roebling: The Relevance of Archival Research to Moder

“Nineteenth Century Suspension Bridges of John A. Roebling: The Relevance of Archival Research to Modern Engineering Practice.”

Tuesday, March 7, 4:10pm, Scheler Humanities Forum, Linderman Library.

Free and open to the public. Light refreshments and time for questions!

Over the course of his career, John A. Roebling (1806-1869) transformed the design of suspension bridges, progressing from spans of several hundred feet to the 1595-foot long main span of the Great East River (aka Brooklyn) Bridge. Roebling’s bridges are unique in that they achieve efficiency and strength by combining three structural forms—suspension cable, inclined stays, and stiffening truss. Mechanics-based structural analysis methods developed in the 19th century by Claude Navier and others could not be applied to Roebling’s bridges due to their highly complex and indeterminate structural form. Examination of Roebling’s design calculations, technical writings and related archival materials reveal that Roebling, as a designer, was not constrained by ‘Navier’s straightjacket’ of analysis. Rather, Roebling’s design philosophy evolved over the course of his career and is rooted in sound engineering design principles. In present day structural engineering, the capabilities of computerized structural analysis allow for near limitless complexity, yet Roebling’s fundamental design principles remain valid and can provide conceptual clarity in the design process. Stephen Buonopane is an Associate Professor in Civil and Environmental Engineering at Bucknell University in Lewisburg, PA. He has been conducting research in engineering history for over 25 years, with a specialty in 19th century bridge design. He approaches historic structures as archaeological artifacts, examining them from multiple perspectives to learn about the culture of their design.

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