There seems to be a rush to judgment to find the flaws that caused the I-35W bridge to collapse in Minneapolis. The new theory—faulty steel gusset plates—strikes me as grasping at straws. Why after 40 years would faulty plates suddenly result in a catastrophic failure? Why has this never been raised before as a potential flaw in this type of bridge? As MIT metallurgist Ken Russell pointed out here recently, steel is made in huge batches, and its chemistry is carefully tested. Suddenly we discovered that this ancient batch was a bad one? Or that the designer used a wrong gauge or grade of steel?
It probably will take months for a meaningful analysis of the bridge failure to emerge. Undoubtedly, the investigators will find a frightening list of contributors to the collapse, starting with the corroded steel roller bearings already reported as deficient in 1990.
Oak Ridge National Laboratory has developed a surface preparation method to improve joining carbon composites with aluminum, with potentially far-reaching ramifications for high-volume industrial applications.
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