• Infrastructure protectionMood ring materials offer a new way to detect damage in failing infrastructure

    The American Society of Civil Engineers has estimated that more than $3.6 trillion in investment is needed by 2020 to rehabilitate and modernize the nation’s failing infrastructure. President-elect Donald Trump has promised to establish a $1 trillion infrastructure improvement program when he takes office. An important element in any modernization effort will be the development of new and improved methods for detecting damage in these structures before it becomes critical. This is where “mood ring materials’ comes in. “Mood ring materials” could play an important role in minimizing and mitigating damage to the U.S. failing infrastructure.

  • Infrastructure protectionImproving Pennsylvania bridges

    According to the Federal Highway Administration’s 2015 National Bridge Inventory, of the 22,783 bridges in Pennsylvania, 21 percent are classified as structurally deficient and another 19 percent are classified as functionally obsolete. Researchers conducted a study to identify the key factors that contribute to premature cracking in concrete bridge decks. The team also assessed the effects of the cracks on the long-term durability of the bridges.

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  • Infrastructure protectionEnergy-efficient dyke-inspection robots

    There are many dykes in the Netherlands, and their structural health must be continuously monitored. Inspecting the condition of dykes and other sea defense structures is typically a task for robots, working in a team and in a highly autonomous way. But if they move around across the dykes, perform tests, and communicate the results for six hours a day, they use a lot of energy. Introducing charging stations is not a realistic scenario. A Dutch researcher had a better idea: an innovative automatic gearbox or the robots, which uses two metal hemispheres instead of a belt drive.

  • Infrastructure protectionSensors monitor bridges’ health – and tweet the information they gather

    While bridge collapses are rare, there have been enough of them to raise concerns in some parts of the world that their condition is not sufficiently monitored. Sweden is taking a hi-tech approach to its aging infrastructure. Researchers are rigging up the country’s bridges with multiple sensors that allow early detection of wear and tear. The bridges can even tweet throughout the course of a day.

  • InfrastructureEconomic impact of inland waterway disruptions potentially in the billions

    What would happen if a lengthy disruption befell the major mode of transportation of U.S. corn and soybeans? What ramifications would that have on U.S. producers and the national economy? How would that affect U.S. competitiveness in world grain markets? While hypothetical, these concerns are very real as the barge corridor in question contains a total of thirty-six locks and dams that have long since surpassed their designed lifespan. This corridor is the Upper Mississippi River and Illinois Waterway (UMR-IWW) that serves as the primary corridor for the movement of bulk commodities in the United States. Corn and soybeans comprise nearly 90 percent of food and farm products on these waterways.

  • InfrastructureStructural, regulatory, and human errors contributed to Washington bridge collapse

    When an important bridge collapsed on Interstate 5 near Mount Vernon, Washington, in 2013, questions were raised about how such a catastrophic failure could occur. A new analysis outlines the many factors that led to the collapse, as well as steps that transportation departments can take to prevent such accidents on other bridges of similar design.

  • InfrastructureBuilding indestructible bridges

    A design process called “form-finding,” inspired by the natural world, could make possible a new generation of indestructible bridges. Form-finding enables the design of rigid structures that follow a strong natural form — structures which are sustained by a force of pure compression or tension, with no bending stresses, which are the main points of weakness in other structures.

  • InfrastructureGiant foam blocks keep approach slabs of bridges from settling

    The majority of the world’s largest cities, often built in areas near water bodies, have soft and compressible soils. For example, a good number of the 52,000 bridges in Texas have bump problems on entry due to settling of the soil under the pavement slabs. A research team at the University of Texas at Arlington (UTA) is using giant lightweight geofoam blocks to bolster the earth beneath roads and bridges and slow down the settling of roadways and bridges.

  • TunnelsUsing shotcrete to make tunnels withstand terrorist attacks

    Conflagrations and terrorist attacks are a threat for tunnels and bridges, so engineers are searching for ways to make tunnels and bridges as robust as possible. Construction materials, such as special types of high-performance concrete, which can partly absorb the impact of explosions, already exist, but due to their manufacturing principle, they cannot be made in any other shape than the slab, which cannot be used for cladding surfaces with complex geometries. A new type of shotcrete — which used to be considered impossible to manufacture — was created by scientists to render the structures more robust. Despite its high steel and synthetic-fiber contents, it can be sprayed on easily.

  • EarthquakesDisaster and recovery: The unexpected shall come to be expected

    By Vincent T Gawronski

    In the days following the Nepal earthquake, the media has been focusing on the heart-wrenching human interest and hero-tragedy stories, but what must be emphasized is that this disaster was anticipated. More importantly, we now have the tools and building technologies to mitigate the impact of even major earthquakes. The frequency of earthquakes has not changed over the past few million years, but now millions of people live in vulnerable situations. The unexpected must come to be expected. Much-needed humanitarian assistance must transition into long-term development efforts. Simply put, instilling a culture of disaster risk reduction, investing in hazard mitigation, building as best as we can, and retrofitting what remains, will save lives.

  • DamsResilient rivers respond quickly to dam removal

    More than 1,000 dams have been removed across the United States because of safety concerns, sediment buildup, inefficiency, or having otherwise outlived usefulness. A paper published the other day finds that rivers are resilient and respond relatively quickly after a dam is removed. Studies show that most river channels stabilize within months or years, not decades, particularly when dams are removed rapidly.

  • InfrastructureOver 61,000 U.S. bridges need structural repair

    An analysis of the recently released 2014 U.S. Department of Transportation (U.S. DOT) National Bridge Inventory database finds good news and bad news when it comes to the most heavily traveled U.S. bridges. The good news is that there are over 2,000 fewer structurally deficient structures than there were in 2013. The bad news is that it means more than 61,000 structurally deficient bridges are still in need of significant repair. Cars, trucks, and school buses cross the nation’s 61,064 structurally compromised bridges 215 million times every day.

  • InfrastructureBridge repair method cuts amount of time, money for bridge maintenance

    According to American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) 2013 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure, one in nine of the U.S. 607,380 bridges is rated as structurally deficient, and $76 billion is needed to address the issue. The high cost is partly due to the fact that traditional repair methods are time consuming and labor intensive. Researchers, however, say that they have validated a new approach that could significantly reduce the amount of time and money needed to repair bridge components damaged by corrosion: Applying ultrahigh-performance concrete to the ends of corroded bridge beams could restore bearing capacity in a fraction of the time possible with traditional repair techniques.

  • Coastal infrastructureU.K. coastal railways at increasing risk from climate change

    Footage of a railway line suspended in mid-air and buffeted remorselessly by the storm that had caused the sea wall to collapse beneath it made for one of the defining images of 2014. Scenes such as those witnessed at Dawlish in Devon are set to become more frequent as a result of climate change, and the U.K. government and rail companies must face up to difficult funding decisions if rural areas currently served by coastal lines are to continue to be connected to the rail network. For railway builders in the mid-nineteenth century the coast was cheaper, flatter, and easier than using inland sites, one expert points out. “We wouldn’t have built these railway lines where they are if we had today’s knowledge.”

  • InfrastructureDamage-sensing, self-repairing concrete

    Skin is renewable and self-repairing — our first line of defense against the wear and tear of everyday life. If damaged, a myriad of repair processes spring into action to protect and heal the body. Clotting factors seal the break, a scab forms to protect the wound from infection, and healing agents begin to generate new tissue. Taking inspiration from this remarkable living healthcare package, researchers are asking whether damage sensing and repair can be engineered into a quite different material: concrete. Their aim is to produce a “material for life,” one with an in-built first-aid system that responds to all manner of physical and chemical damage by self-repairing, over and over again.