With little more than a smartphone app and a rope, Maria Gibbs, S.M.ASCE, a Ph.D. student in the Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering & Earth Sciences at the University of Notre Dame, was able to do something that normally requires a team of structural engineers and a truckload of fancy, expensive equipment. Through her work as a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow, she was able to create a simple dynamic testing procedure that she terms a Citizens Sensing Project, which would capture the dynamic characteristics of suspension footbridges. Her research on bridge aeroelasticity was so closely tied to her volunteer work with Bridges to Prosperity (B2P) that she spent a year working for them as operations and research coordinator.
“So my job,” she noted, “was to erase that uncertainty and develop a tool that is going to predict how these structures will respond to the wind so that we can design and build these bridges safely, and to last a long time. “The first step is capturing the dynamics of the structures using a portable, low-cost testing procedure which is easily deployable to rural footbridges all over the world — i.e., a smart phone app and a rope — then using this data, along with information about wind-induced buffeting and flutter, to develop a tool which predicts the behavior of suspension footbridges under wind loads.” According to Gibbs, by figuring out how to test the dynamics of these bridges using an innovative approach, she and the team one step closer to their goal. There is still plenty of work to do.
Earlier this year Gibbs was named one of the 2015 New Faces of Civil Engineering by the American Society of Civil Engineers. Although she does not yet know what her future holds when she graduates in 2017, Gibbs believes that people deserve the opportunity to be healthy, be educated and support themselves and their families. “That is what drives my work and will continue my work,” she says.
— Doug Scott, ASCE News