Iowa students studying bridge monitoring systems - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Iowa students studying bridge monitoring systems

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CEDAR FALLS (KWWL) -

Iowa's bridges are falling apart.  In fact, this fall, a new report ranked our state's bridges as the third most deficient in the nation.  Now, the state is looking to students for help in identifying specific problems with the state's bridges.

Driving over Iowa's bridges, you've probably noticed some bumps in the road.  Currently, the Iowa Department of Transportation uses a system to track where and how bridges deteriorate, in an effort to pinpoint needed repairs.  But the current system isn't the most energy or cost efficient.

"The bridge monitoring system all needs to be powered.  And normally, they're powered through cables.  However, it's not very convenient," said Jin Zhu, UNI Industrial Technology professor.

That's why UNI engineering students, along with students at Iowa and Iowa State are using grant funding to research better ways to study bridge damage without physically doing bridge inspections.  At UNI, students have started testing bridge monitoring systems that are powered by car vibrations and solar energy.

"You do a little bit of research, figure out what other people have done and how you can either improve on that or make it completely new," said Laura Hattaway, UNI student researcher.

The project is in its very early stages.  During the next two years, several systems will be tested.  Ultimately, students and professors hope they'll develop a system that I-DOT can put into practice, with one simple goal.

"We want to make it a system to be able to provide better monitoring of the bridge's dangers and make the bridges safer," Zhu said.

The challenge may be funding repairs that any new monitoring system finds are needed on Iowa's bridges.

Once students fine tune and build a new bridge monitoring system, it will be tested on a bridge along Highway 30 near Ames.  Those results will be handed over to the Iowa Department of Transportation to see if the new system can be effectively put into practice.

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