Think of the Clifton Suspension Bridge and you might think of a prestigious feat of engineering by the precocious Isambard Kingdom Brunel, its unrivalled views along the Avon Gorge or the newly discovered vaults under its Leigh Woods abutment.
For a team of University of Bristol students, it’s the bridge’s ability to make music.
The team recently unveiled a double-strung harp inspired by the shape of the bridge which plays music composed from its own structural data.
The instrument – developed at the Jean Golding Institute at the University of Bristol – gives a unique insight into how the bridge moves and the impact of vehicles, pedestrians and the weather.
Designed and built by Bristol-based luthier and guitar maker Sean Clark, the harp has 82 strings and is tuned in relation to the bridge’s natural frequency of 12.9Hz.
The harp is played with two robotic arms, each strumming the strings on different sides to represent data collected on the north and south sides of the bridge.
Engineering mathematics PhD student Sam Gunner led the project. He said: “To see our research represented in this way is really remarkable. The Clifton Suspension Bridge is a much-loved sight and now people can both see and hear it in a new light.
“Aside from the harp offering a visual and audio experience, it embodies important research which allows us to better understand how the bridge moves and the impact of vehicles, pedestrians and the weather.”
As well as the music, the data is now being used by engineers at the university to improve structural models of the bridge and to design a system to classify vehicle traffic.
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