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Thermal expansion of bridges

Thermal expansion of bridges

The length of the metal frameworks of bridges change when the temperature changes.



thermal expansion, linear thermal expansion, thermal motion, expansion, shrinkage, heating, bridge, bridge deck, temperature, metal framework, thermodynamics, tied-arch bridge, physics

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  • - Balls symbolize these. When the temperature increases, the thermal motion of atoms increases, they maintain a greater average separation. This results in an increase in volume.


Due to thermal expansion, the length of bridge support structures changes with changes in temperature. This must be taken into account when a bridge is being designed. The problem can be solved by placing roller bearings on one of the piers, thus permitting the horizontal movement of the superstructure. The expansion joint built into the bridge deck allows for continuous traffic over the bridge even in extreme thermal conditions in summer or winter.

In summer the bridge deck expands due to high temperature, while in winter it contracts. The change in length is directly proportional to the length of the bridge and the change in temperature, usually it is only a few centimeters. Without a roller bearing even these few centimeters would cause huge mechanical tension in the deck, which would result in serious damage to the metal structure of the bridge.

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Golden Gate Bridge (San Francisco, 1937)

The suspension bridge that stretches above the strait between San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Ocean was opened in 1937.

Body-centered cubic lattice

The least tightly packed crystal structure.

Face-centered cubic metal lattice

The face-centered cubic metal lattice allows the closest fit of metal atoms.

Hexagonal metallic lattice

Metals forming hexagonal metallic lattices are rigid and difficult to machine.


Metal atoms form a regular lattice structure.


There are various types of instruments used for measuring temperature.

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Types of bridges include beam-, arch-, suspension-, cantilever and truss bridges.

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