A science teacher is expected to have a grasp on a wide range of science topics, and the lower the grade taught, the wider the scope. I recall when Structure and Design was introduced as a topic in the Grade 7 curriculum, teachers were scrambling to learn something about the topic. Ever since that time, I take every opportunity to learn a little bit more about this subject that I never had the opportunity to study formally.
This spring, I had the occasion to visit London’s Tower Bridge. I found it to be an opportunity to learn about the engineering marvels of the Victorian age and compare this bridge to many other bridge designs.
Just inside the ticket office and entry, I spotted the poster “Raise Tower Bridge” and discovered that I could also sign-in to free WiFi and use the QR code to download the ‘Raise Tower Bridge’ app. I will have plenty of time to play with that later, now is the time to take in the displays.
The ticket office is at the base of the northern tower. Looking up, it was easy to see the steel beams that provide the strength to withstand the compression and tension forces encountered with the function of this bascule bridge. The function of the outer brick façade is mostly aesthetic to make the 19th century bridge fit in with the nearby 11th century Tower of London.
Along the horizontal walkways there are cleverly framed information posters showing various aspects of bridge design. There is also a series of posters featuring photos of significant bridges around the world.
Statistically (2015), this is the 8th most visited tourist attraction in London. Annually, there are almost ¾ of a million visitors. I went first thing in the morning to ensure that I was not just moving through the exhibits with a mass of other people.
One particularly interesting experience I had was taking part in their beta-testing of virtual reality. Through the special timelooper glasses, visitors look around and see what the bridge was like while under construction as if in a time machine. I was reminded of the final scenes in the 2009 Robert Downey Jr movie version of Sherlock Holmes where the hero and villain fight it out on the unfinished Tower Bridge. As I rotated my body, I was suddenly at the end of the metal beam. I needed to steady myself for fear of falling down to the river below.
The roof on one of the walkways is covered with a mirror and you can look up to see down through the glass floor. Many of the visitors were very interested in this portion of the exhibit.
Lifting of the massive roadway was accomplished by steam powered engines up until the early 1970s. That history has been preserved and is on display at the base of the bridge.
I was also able to see the size of the tools used for the maintenance of the steam engines plus take a peek into the firebox that burned the coal to produce the steam. The size and scale amazed me.
If you are in London this summer, do take in the Tower Bridge. It is an immersive lesson in Structure and Design. If you teach Junior High school in Alberta, take lots of notes as I’m sure you will be talking about this adventure in your classroom when school returns.
Link: Tower Bridge Experience
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