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Campus Currents May 2007: Volume 4, Number 2

Lightweight Super Bridge

Losing weight is no longer just a theme for television shows. In a bid to make the U.S. military more mobile, UC San Diego researchers are helping design high-strength, lightweight and portable structures such as composite bridges that can transport heavy vehicles weighing up to 200,000 pounds. With funding from the Office of Naval Research, structural engineering students have developed a carbon-fiber bridge. The 78-foot-long lightweight composite bridge could also help save lives in the event of a natural disaster. The structure, which was built in the UCSD Powell Structures laboratory, is currently being assembled.

"The next phase of the project will involve bolting and bonding the beams, decks and joints together through the use of an alignment rig," says Katharine LaZansky, M.S. '09, a structural engineering grad student who is leading the project. "Since the parts will need to be interchangeable in order to demonstrate that the bridge can be used in different configurations, this will need to be done in a precise fashion."

The bridge is designed to meet three different types of military bridging requirements—assault, line of communication and tactical bridging. In the assault bridge configuration, for example, the bridge can be launched from a tank and carry vehicles that weigh up to 200,000 pounds.

These types of bridges, made of aerospace-grade composite materials, have been under development at UCSD for the past several years, and are corrosion resistant, lighter and stronger than current metallic bridges.

"After we test the bridge we will be able to tell how well the aluminum joints perform when integrated into a full-size structure," says LaZansky, whose advisor for the project is structural engineering professor John Kosmatka.

One of the advantages of this composite bridge is that the U.S. military can potentially build it in the field. "You can fly an oven out that is 20 feet long and have aluminum molds and lay out carbon fiber fabrics," says LaZansky. "This can save time, space and money."

—Andrea Siedsma