An insight into an engineering masterclass

An insight into attending an Ri Engineering Masterclass at Imperial College. Written by David Alty, a work experience student working with the Ri Masterclass team in February 2013.

My name is David Alty. I attended one of the engineering master classes at Imperial College as part of my work experience, when working with the Ri. I joined a class of thirty all coming from different and varying schools. The session's subject was bridges and the engineering of them.

The group started with a slideshow showing many bridges and how challenging it is to make them (or how easy it is). The first bridge was a basic stone bridge which involved simply piling bricks on top of each other from both sides until they met at the middle, we then established that the problem with that kind of bridge was that it was liable to fall apart from weathering forces. It was also very heavy so couldn't go across a very large gap due to the fact that it would simply collapse under its own weight. Then we talked about modern suspension bridges and why the millennium bridge wobbled so much, we learned that due to the tightness of the wires and proximity to the bridge they acted like strings on a guitar to the result that when many people stepped on them the bridge begin to wobble like a string when plucked. We were then invited to try and come up with a solution to the problem with the wobbly bridge. We came up with ideas like loosening the wires but this was not the best option all things considered. We learned that they fixed the bridge by putting suspension in (like in cars) this stopped the wobbling and has since been used in many other bridges.

We then learned the maths behind this using Pythagoras and how certain areas of the bridge takes certain types of tension and compression, such as vertical tension and horizontal tension we also learned that diagonal lines take a bit of both.

  • Bridge building activity

    Students working on a bridge building activity

    Credit: T Mitchell

After that we had a challenge to create a bridge that would stand alone, span a 50cm gap and be made only of string, paper, card and tape. My team came second due to not looking as aesthetically good as the winner but it withheld 2.1kg which was the maximum weights they had showing the team work and the thought gone in to the build.

In the end this session has helped me to work better in a team, think more on a career in engineering, helped show the application of maths in the real world and given me a better understanding of what it is to be an engineer.


This session has helped show the application of maths in the real world and given me a better understanding of what it is to be an engineer.