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Paul Ziehl, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering
Wireless sensors, such as the one held here by Dr. Paul Ziehl, are being developed by the College of Engineering and Computing to red flag potentially dangerous flaws in the nation's aging bridges.

Engineers involved in national study on aging bridges

Researchers at the University of South Carolina’s College of Engineering and Computing are part of a national team that will develop technologies to assess the structural health of the nation’s aging bridges.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) awarded the $14 million project through its Technology Innovation Program (TIP) that links the Physical Acoustics Corp. (PAC) of Princeton, N.J., the University of Miami, Virginia Tech and the University of South Carolina, with $4 million for its part of the study.

“The technology being developed involves combining data from a host of electronic sensors – including embeddable low-profile piezo-electric sensors – and new methods that analyze and rapidly assess data on bridge corrosion, cracking due to fatigue and other defects, even before they’re visible to the eye,” said Dr. Paul Ziehl, an associate professor in the department of civil and environmental engineering and the lead investigator for Carolina’s research.

“This study addresses a critical need in the nation’s infrastructure,” he said. “Many of our bridges were built 50 years ago, and many of these structures have a life expectancy of about 50 years. This project focuses on steel and concrete bridges. What we learn will help us to more quickly determine the health of a bridge and the length of time that it can be used.”

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Extending lifespans

  • What: $14 million NIST project.
  • Who: Three universities and one research lab; College of Engineering and Computing to work with $4 million of the grant.
  • Why: To identify potentially dangerous flaws in the nation's aging bridges.

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