Newton’s Mathematical Bridge

Newton's Mathematical Bridge

This is a bridge that exists in Cambridge, England.

The University of Cambridge is the alma mater of the father of the scientific revolution, Isaac Newton.

Legend has it that Newton, with his engineering brilliance, designed and built this bridge using only wooden planks; without the aid of nuts or bolts. While the bridge has some beautiful mathematical features, this is not the case.

You don’t even need to look closely to see that the bridge is littered with nuts and bolts. In fact, they are inherent to the design. Some say that this is because students at the university took the bridge apart and tried to put it back together again, but when they couldn’t- they just bolted it together.

Alas, Newton definitely did not have a part in the design, nor construction, of the bridge. He died in 1727, 22 years before the construction of this bridge in 1749.

The arrangement of timbers upon this bridge are so placed to be tangent to points on the arc beneath the bridge; and thus is the mathematical aesthetic of this bridge.

The bridge has been rebuilt on two occasions, in 1866 and 1905. Originally, the bridge was built with steps. The only change that has been made to the original specification of the bridge is to make it one big arc, in order to make the crossing wheelchair-accessible.

I stayed at the University of Cambridge on a Science Masterclass residential week, and this bridge is one of the first things we were shown, as a major point of scientific interest in the city. While it wasn’t designed by Sir Newton, the bridge does have a sophisticated, beautifully engineered design to it.

Dale Chapman

This entry was posted by dailysliceofpi.

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