Wednesday, January 8, 2020

A Test of a da Vinci Bridge Design

Environmental & Science Education
History of Science
Edward Hessler

What didn't Leonardo da Vinci turn his time and talent to?  Here is one I had never heard about.

David Chandler in a press release from MIT put it this way. "In 1502 A.D., Sultan Bayezid II sent out the Renaissance equivalent of a government RFP (request for proposals), seeking a design for a bridge to connect Istanbul with its neighbor city of Galata. Leonardo da Vinci, already a well-known artist and inventor, came up with a novel bridge design that he described in a letter to the Sultan and sketched in a small drawing in his notebook."

His proposal was not accepted. The design "would have been the world's longest bridge span (~280 m or ~ 918 feet) of its time." Three researchers at MIT wondered whether it "really would have worked."

They analyzed "the available documents, the possible materials and construction methods that were available at the time, and the geological conditions at the proposed site....Ultimately, the team built a detailed scale model to test the structure's ability to stand and support weight, and even to withstand settlement of its foundations." Their models were 32" long and were made of 126 blocks (da Vinci's bridge would have consisted of thousands. Each block required about 6 hours to produce on a 3D printer.

da Vinci's design worked! It is held together by compression. As Karly Bast notes, "It's the power of geometry." You may see a sketch from one of daVinci's notebooks here.

The MIT News release has more details. The Engineer's Journal also reported on the test and has more information.

What a brilliant talent!

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