NBC News Features Calit2 'Bridge Doctor'
By Anna Lynn Spitzer
Irvine, Calif., August 15, 2007 -- In the wake of the tragic Minneapolis bridge collapse, news outlets around the country have been seeking interviews with Calit2 academic affiliate Maria Feng. Feng, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at UC Irvine, is an expert in using sensors to monitor the health of large civil infrastructures, such as bridges and buildings. She is often referred to in news reports as the “bridge doctor.”
|Feng talks with Jennifer Bauman from KOCE
To monitor bridges, Feng is designing fiber-optic sensors – one of which she patented in 1999 – that are smaller, lighter and more resilient to harsh weather conditions than standard electric sensors originally fabricated for mechanical or aerospace systems.
Feng’s bridge research, funded by the California Department of Transportation, also employs strain sensors embedded into the concrete, accelerometers, displacement sensors and soil pressure sensors that can detect problems visual inspections can miss. Before installing them, Feng tests her sensors in the Calit2 Building’s “living laboratory.”
In the weeks since the August 1 bridge collapse, Feng has been interviewed by KFWB and KPCC radio, KOCE television, the Orange County Register and the San Diego Union Tribune.
Last night she was featured on a “What Works” segment on the NBC Nightly News. The 2-1/2 minute segment showed Feng at work in her Calit2 lab. It also depicted her checking sensors on the Vincent Thomas Bridge in Long Beach, a bridge that she has been monitoring as part of her research and one of 150,000 bridges in the U.S. that has been deemed structurally deficient.
“We hope to use sensors to identify problems in their early stage so we can fix the problem immediately to prevent a catastrophic failure,” she told correspondent George Lewis.
She also told Lewis that it is feasible to install sensors on bridges across the nation within five years. “With information technology and electronics, I’m confident this can be done,” she concluded.
To watch Feng on NBC Nightly News, click here.