UConn Researchers Aim to Improve Bridges


Researchers at the University of Connecticut are reportedly working on a variety of patenting methods aimed to improve bridges across the state.

The research is headed by UConn associate professor of civil and environmental engineering Arash Zaghi—who is also leading research in the School of Engineering surrounding bridges at UConn.

According to the American Road & Transportation Builder’s Association, 7.6% of the nation’s bridges are “structurally deficient” and 38% of all bridges in the United States require repairs.

In Connecticut, 308 of the 4,702 bridges in the state were found to be structurally deficient in 2018.

The Research

The Daily Campus reports that most recently, Zaghi and his team have been working on a patent for force sensing sliding bearings to assess the structural health of bridges. Also called “smart bearings,” the technology enables bridges to accommodate movement due changes in load from traffic and temperature variations, among other things.

“The bearing consists of a sliding surface, thin force sensors that collect data and a microcomputer for the onsite post-processing of data,” the university reports. “The low-profile, unobtrusive device can be seamlessly incorporated into the design of new bridges or the replacement of old bearings in existing bridges, a unique advantage over competing technologies on the market.”

Currently, this portion of the bridge is maintained and monitored through visual inspections. However, by incorporating the smart bearings into a bridge’s design, both time and money could be saved through the bearings ability to monitor the infrastructure’s stress and activity.

“The reliable and easy-to-interpret data collected by the smart bearing provides bridge designers and bridge owners with vital information that can significantly improve the quality of their assessment of the safety of bridge structures,” Zaghi says. “The data also helps them identify overweight vehicles that are traditionally a major source of damage to bridges.”

The university adds that the technology can also be used to track traffic statistics.

In addition to the smart bearings, Zaghi is also working on a patent for a reinforced structural column system to help increase the lifespan of bridges and working with the Connecticut Department of Transportation to develop new kinds of concrete.

UConn reports that much of Zaghi’s research focuses on updating old infrastructure techniques and creating new innovations.

“You don’t commute in 40-year-old cars,” Zaghi said in a interview. “The ones today are entirely different. But our infrastructure is similar to the way we were doing it 40 to 50 years ago.”

Other Recent UConn Research

Back in December, a team of scientists from UConn met with local leaders to discuss research collected over the past year regarding the state’s crumbling concrete crisis.

In 2016, the Hartford Courant reported that some 400 homeowners scattered in 23 towns in eastern Connecticut filed complaints with a consumer protection agency after noticing premature deterioration in their concrete foundations.

UConn has been involved with researching the issue since 2015, as pat of a request from the Connecticut Attorney General’s Office to determine potential causes of the concrete problems that have plagued scores of homeowners.

Throughout the studies, UConn has discovered that basements will crack more rapidly when exposed to moisture. The team is also suggesting homeowners find a way to direct water away from their homes. Additionally, the team has added that they may be able to test the concrete using a handheld device, vs. obtaining more expensive core samples.

By the middle of January, Connecticut lawmakers announced that federal funding they sought to help pay for research on pyrrhotite would be included in a spending bill.

The Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies Appropriations Bill for Fiscal Year 2020 was released in mid-December, and included $1.5 million sought by U.S. Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Chris Murphy (D-CT) and U.S. Reps. Joe Courtney (CT-02) and John Larson (CT-01) for the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

In the coming months, the UConn team plans to present a formal briefing on the research findings.


Tagged categories: Bridges; Bridges; Colleges and Universities; concrete; Department of Transportation (DOT); Infrastructure; NA; North America; Program/Project Management; Research; Research and development; Technology

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