Monday 25 Jan, 2016

Inspired by da Vinci: Students Design a Self-Supporting Ice Bridge

A group of students from the Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands are taking da Vinci’s 500-year-old blue prints and turning them more into a glacier white. On December 28th, the student group was joined by 150 volunteer engineers in Juuka, Finland to embark on a project titled “Bridge in Ice.” Inspired by da Vinci’s incredible self-supporting bridge idea, these brave souls are constructing a version of the design – made entirely out of ice.Ice BridgeThough he is most commonly known for creating the world’s most recognizable portrait, the Mona Lisa, Leonardo da Vinci also made huge contributions to astronomy, anatomy, and engineering. In 1502, the Turkish Sultan commissioned da Vinci to design a bridge that would span the width of the “Golden Horn,” a section of the Bosphorus strait separating Europe and Asia. Da Vinci drew up intricate plans for what would have been the world’s largest bridge, stretching 790 feet long. The catch? It was a self-supporting bridge, held up solely by the compression of the bricks used to build it. The Sultan rejected his plan, thinking it would be impossible to execute. Fast-forward 500 years and here we are in the 21st century, where da Vinci’s extraordinary design has been proven to be a sound plan.

As you may have guessed, making this structure is a little more complicated than stacking Legos. Here’s how it works: water and paper fiber are mixed to create pykrete, a substance that is 10 times more durable than regular ice when frozen. The pykrete is then sprayed over meticulously designed balloon-like molds. Once the pykrete is frozen solid, the molds are removed and the ice is then strong enough to stand on its own.

Building the world’s longest ice bridge sure isn’t a walk in the park – unless that park is covered in ice and snow and experiences temperatures averaging -4 °F. As if that wasn’t grueling enough, the volunteer builders have to take shifts working day and night, in order to make sure that the equipment does not freeze. Working in these conditions is nothing new to the students of Eindhoven Institute of Technology. The same group has also constructed the world’s largest ice dome, modeled after Gaudi’s Sagrada Família in Barcelona.

The 213 foot long ice bridge will be finished just in time for the Juuka ice festival in mid-February. After a car crosses the bridge at the opening ceremony, it will be open to pedestrians. Da Vinci’s designs may be timeless, but the ice bridge certainly is not.

Learn how students are using design thinking and creativity at EF’s Global Student Leaders Summits to produce innovative solutions to today’s most significant issues.