MEAM Bicycle Bridge Tour 2011

The first-annual MEAM Bicycle Bridge Tour happened on Sunday September 11, 2011 and included 38 students and 3 faculty members. Developed thanks to the imagination of Bruce Kothmann, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Mechanical Engineering and Applied Mechanics, the tour was designed to show students the many engineering achievements of the bridges that span the Schuylkill River.

ALPHA: A Novel Bicycle

"During a recreational weekend bike ride with my family," notes Kothmann, "I happened to notice that the truss on the Falls Bridge was constructed in such a way that you could easily determine the forces in the various parts, just by looking carefully at the bridge.  I thought that it would be great to get students out to see it in person.  When I got home, I began researching the history of the bridges and discovered that it was amazing.  For example, what is now the Spring Garden Street Bridge had been a covered wooden bridge called 'The Colossus,' until that burned and was replaced by the first steel cable suspension bridge in the US."

MEAM students are routinely asked to do hands-on laboratory exercises, such as one Kothmann was working on which would ask students to design and build a truss structure of some kind, such as a small (6-foot-span) pedestrian bridge. After seeing the bridges in person, Kothmann decided to organize a bike ride for all MEAM undergraduates. The department coordinated bike rentals for students who needed them, and the group stopped at each bridge, about every mile, to discuss engineering, history, and trivia.

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