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U. of New Hampshire's Living Bridge Project
Learning from Portsmouth's Memorial Bridge

U. of New Hampshire's Living Bridge Project

Researchers from the University of New Hampshire have outfitted the Memorial Bridge with data sensors that capture a range of information from the bridge and the environment around it.

Engineers at the University of New Hampshire (UNH) have designed a "living laboratory" on a heavily-traveled bridge. The Memorial Bridge, which links Portsmouth, New Hampshire to Kittery, Maine, has been outfitted with data sensors that have transformed it into a self-diagnosing, self-reporting "smart" bridge that captures a range of information, from the health of the bridge itself to the environment around it.

"We call it a 'living' bridge because it can talk to us and provide valuable information about its health-the stress it deals with, the ease at which it moves, what's happening around it and even under it in the Piscataqua River," said Erin Bell, associate professor of civil engineering and principal investigator of the Living Bridge Project. "This bridge is not just for getting us across the water, it can teach us so much more about the world around us."

The vertical lift bridge was fitted with 40 self-diagnosing sensors that provide researchers, engineers and the general public with information about structural performance, like weight on the bridge, the behavior of the towers during a bridge lift, strain and acceleration, as well as traffic patterns, weather conditions, and sea level and tidal information. It can also provide bridge design engineers unique and innovative information to help design future bridges with maximum safety, reliability and efficiency.

The team expanded the project below the bridge and built a floating platform that is secured to the pier underneath. It is designed to rise and fall with the changing tide and is equipped with its own weather station and sensors. Because the river is considered a harsh marine environment, the platform can be instrumental in collecting data like ebb flow, flood flow and weather conditions.

A tidal turbine installed on the platform serves as a tool to test the viability of the river to serve as a renewable energy source. Because the Piscataqua River is one of the fastest navigable waterways on the Eastern seaboard, the team wanted to explore the use of the river's tidal waters. The data that is collected from the turbine and the sensors can be shared across UNH, with other colleagues and researchers and even within the community.

To learn more about the Living Bridge Project, visit

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August 22, 2019, 1:21 am PDT

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