Posts from 2007

The Space of All Possible Bridge Shapes

When I hear about something like Wednesday’s bridge collapse, I immediately wonder whether any of the science I’ve worked on can be of any help.

Bridge design is one of the classic—almost iconic—successes of traditional mathematical science.

And when I first talked about A New Kind of Science, a not uncommon reaction was precisely, “But can it help build better bridges?”

Well, as a matter of fact, I rather suspect it can.

Bridges have a long history. Early on, only a few types seem to have been used. But with the arrival of iron structures in the 1800s there was a kind of “Cambrian explosion” of different types of truss bridges:

Bridge structures

But what is the very best bridge structure, say from the point of view of robustness? There’s a huge universe of possibilities. But so far, only a tiny corner has been explored—and that mostly in the 1800s. Continue reading