Suspension of disbelief

suspensionbridgeThere are just so many creative people in our world. There are artists who make us see the world afresh through visual media. There are musicians who play with our emotions just like they play their instruments. There are writers who make us think, feel and imagine through words alone.

But what if your medium was the physical world itself, and your task was to make the impossible possible? That would make you awesome. That would make you an engineer.

Did you know that the coldest known place in the universe isn’t outer space, but a laboratory here on Earth? Did you know that the air inside a jet engine is so hot that its temperature is higher than the melting point of the metal it’s made from? Engineers made these things possible.

Here I want to talk about a very simple invention that transformed our world. Bridges.

Bridges are amazing. They cross chasms. They connect places that would otherwise be unreachable. They change the geography of our world and let us live in places that would be uninhabitable.

A simple bridge looks like this:

rialto-bridge

But there’s a limit to how long you can make it before it collapses. To span greater distances you can make a bridge like this:

viaduct

But this is expensive, much harder to build and you can’t sail large ships between the supports. Imagine if you didn’t need to support a bridge from below, but could hang it from the sky? Then all your problems would disappear and you could make a bridge as long as you liked:

veranzio

Imagine being the person who had the audacity to think of this for the first time. Imagine being Fausto Veranzio, the Venetian polymath who designed a suspension bridge in 1595, some two centuries before the first such bridge was ever built.

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10 responses to “Suspension of disbelief

  1. Waoh! I can’t even begin to imagine but I believe I have something greater than bridges in my imagination that will rock the world. #winks and smiles

  2. I always appreciate it those rare times when a fellow blogger not only entertains me, but teaches me a little math, science, or history I didn’t already know. Great post, Steve. Thank you!

  3. I love the engineering marvels that are big bridges. i always wanted to be an engineer. Trouble is, I was lousy at math and science. But aren’t we all bridge builders to some extent? If not physically, then metaphorically?

    • I had an inspirational teacher, Mr Jones, at the age of about 9, who explained suspension bridges and got us to build one as a class. Mr Jones was a kind of bridge too, I suppose.

  4. Great post – and timely, on the 80th anniversary of the start of construction on the fairest of them all: the Golden Gate Bridge.

  5. ‘Imagine being Fausto Veranzio, the Venetian polymath who designed a suspension bridge in 1595, some two centuries before the first such bridge was ever built. ‘ Yes I can imagine they must have thought he was mad and met with hostility…

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