Officials with West Virginia University and the West Virginia Division of Highways Tuesday (Dec. 16) unveiled what they maintain is the nation’s”smartest”bridge capable of sending a signal when in need of repairs.

Samir Shoukry, a professor in WVU ’s College of Engineering and Mineral Resources, has recently overseen the installation of more than 700 sensors in the new Star City Bridge under construction. The technology will enable the bridge to tell researchers and engineers when maintenance is necessary and how the steel and concrete react to the forces of traffic and weather. The bridge is the most heavily instrumented in the United States, making it arguably the smartest.

Shoukry, who holds appointments in both the departments of civil and environmental engineering and mechanical and aerospace engineering, has been exploring ways to lengthen the life and reduce costs of bridge and road surfaces since 1994. His research has been in partnership with the DOH .

His research team recently instrumented portions of the Evansville Bridge in Harrison County, Corridor H near Elkins and Goshen Road in Monongalia County. The Star City Bridge project is special for many reasons, namely its size. The entire 1,000-foot structure has been instrumented, including the deck and superstructure. In this manner, both the performance of the pavement and the steel supporting it can be fully analyzed.

“There are a lot of assumptions that have gone into bridge construction,”said David Martinelli, chair of the civil and environmental engineering department.”They are sound, but through the data being collected, we will find that they often result in the overbuilding of structures.

“By placing sensors within the structure, we can continually monitor and measure the adverse effects of weather and traffic loads,”Martinelli added.”The sensors are extremely sensitive, and the changes they measure could never be detected by visual inspection alone. This technology that Shoukry develops will make bridges more cost-effective to build and maintain as well as make them, and similar structures, more secure.”

As Shoukry put it:”Our goal is to make structures that can assess their condition, report their status continuously to a maintenance agency and call for help when needed.”

Knowledge gained from the data collected will also test the efficiency, and ultimately revolutionize, standard civil engineering procedures. This will result in the development of new bridge design methods; greatly increasing the life span and safety of bridges and greatly decreasing the amount of dollars spent on ineffective repairs or overbuilding.

“It is research like Dr. Shoukry’s, with its relevance to real-world problems, that we encourage at West Virginia University,”said President David Hardesty Jr.”Each day we get in our cars and drive on roads and across bridges without a thought to the ongoing efforts made to improve these surfaces and structures. We have come a long way from gravel roads to hard surfaces with devices that can monitor their conditions, and we have researchers like Shoukry to thank for that.”

The Star City Bridge project’s proximity to the engineering campus also makes it a special educational tool. Research findings must be field-tested, and the Star City Bridge will serve as an actual field-testing laboratory for both undergraduate and graduate WVU students.

“It will essentially be a giant lab for our students,”Martinelli said.”Shoukry is working on developing new courses to capitalize on the opportunity the bridge has provided. Our students will be able to use data from an actual bridge to explore the principles of bridge design, structural dynamics, instrumentation and systems that build intelligence into structures. Not only will civil engineering students benefit, but also mechanical and aerospace engineering students, and those enrolled in computer science.”

Civil engineering students will be able to study and understand real-life behavior of real-life structures. Mechanical and aerospace students will learn how to best instrument a structure and analyze data. Computer science students will develop and test better and better types of sensors for”smart”structures and learn to design databases for organizing and sharing data.

“The professionals at the Division of Highways recognize the value of research such as this,”said Fred VanKirk, secretary of the West Virginia Department of Transportation.”Many strides have been made in the knowledge of how structures react to traffic loads and the climate by those who have studied these facets in the past and this large, full-size research laboratory will increase that knowledge many fold. This can only lead to safer and more economical structures in the future.”