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A Flexible Bridge Bends the Rules of Earthquake Engineering

A new design in Seattle promises to stand strong after being rattled in a violent shakeup.
A rendering of the flexible bridge that Seattle hopes will sustain little to no damage during an earthquake.
A rendering of the flexible bridge that Seattle hopes will sustain little to no damage during an earthquake.WSDOT

A good bridge has to endure a lot from Mother Nature. In earthquake-prone parts of the globe, that’s an especially tall task: even if they survive a temblor without collapsing, the damages sustained can still seriously hamper relief efforts by blocking emergency aid and causing traffic mayhem when the bridges have to be shut down for repairs.

What if a bridge could ride out an earthquake without cracking or suffering severe damage? It would have to be flexible, says Saiid Saiidi at the University of Nevada, Reno. And no, not flexible like the doomed Tacoma Narrows Bridge, but one that snaps back in shape, enduring the force of a strong quake.