SPINE: Resilience-Based Design of Biologically Inspired Columns for Next-Generation Accelerated Bridge Construction

Lead Research Organisation: University of Southampton
Department Name: Faculty of Engineering & the Environment


A resilience-based design approach plays an important role in the design of new bridges and other structures. The structural elements of bridges are often directly exposed to the environment without any protection. Even though life-cycle and sustainability criteria have been incorporated in new design guidelines, there is still no design and construction technique that can fully address the future demands of a resilient and sustainable transport infrastructure.

The aim of this research is to produce innovative and transformative engineering solutions for a durable, low-maintenance, low-cost, and demountable accelerated bridge construction technique, which is resilient to environmental threats, and natural hazards. The solutions will include a completely new resilience-based bridge design approach and biologically inspired composite columns for next-generation accelerated bridge construction.

Towards this goal, this research will construct an innovative composite bridge column, which is inspired by the mechanics of the human spine. In the human spine, intervertebral discs provide flexibility, dissipate energy from the movements of the human body, and absorb and transmit forces without damaging the vertebrae bones. The proposed spinal bridge column will be constructed using precast composite segments (the 'vertebrae'). A new smart composite material will be developed and used in between of these solid composite segments (the 'intervertebral discs'). This will keep the vertebrae from rubbing against each other, transfer the shear forces through friction, absorb the impact due to the rocking of vertebrae, and provide mechanical damping under dynamic loading. Finally, the vertebrae and intervertebral discs will be tied together using an unbonded composite post-tensioning tendon (the 'longitudinal ligament'), to provide self-centring mechanism in the column when subjected to lateral force.

In this 24 moths research, the underlying science of the new spinal column will be investigated through experimental testing and numerical modelling. During the entire duration of the project a series of review meetings, short visits to academics as well as industry partners, and an international workshop will be organised. This interaction is deemed vital for the co-development of new concepts, the transfer of know-how and the resilient and sustainable accelerated bridge construction.

Planned Impact

Transport infrastructure has a significant impact on the quality of people's everyday life. The new resilience-based bridge design, spinal columns, and accelerated bridge construction technique that will be developed in this research, will provide a means to the next generation of resilient and sustainable transport infrastructure (the key impact). This is a major requirement as our national transport infrastructure approaches the end of its design life and does not meet the future demands. Therefore, we urgently need to upgrade our transport infrastructure, and adapt it to future demands as well as environmental impacts due to climate change. More specifically the expected impacts of this research will include:

Contributing to UK economy and society: The outcomes of this research will help civil engineering industry by developing innovative spinal composite bridge columns for next-generation accelerated bridge construction, which is also resilient to environmental threats and natural hazards. This can be directly used in construction of new bridges and replacing ageing, and often structurally deficient, bridges that are approaching or already reached the end of their service life. This will help reducing the direct and indirect construction cost, reducing the maintenance cost of the new bridges, and make the transport infrastructure resilient and sustainable. As a result, downtime in infrastructure networks will be minimised, the safety will be improved, and tax payers' money will be saved.

Strengthening UK competitiveness: This programme will also strengthen the UK's civil/structural engineering sector. This is important in the face of the fierce global competition and the current economic climate. The outcomes of this research will provide the UK engineers with novel solutions and tools for design and construction of structures around the world in a time-efficient manner. The new resilience-based bridge design, the innovative spinal columns, and the new accelerated bridge construction technique will have a large international market, with the UK engineers taking a lead to the benefit of UK plc.

Ensuring UK leadership in engineering: The dissemination activities that will accompany this research programme (see Pathways to Impact) will ensure the international visibility of UK academia. This will maintain and increase the UK's leading position in engineering and will indirectly generate business for UK entities (companies, industries, consultancy firms, etc.).

Creating new skills: To ensure a rapid transition from leading edge research to practical deployment, I will work closely with my industry partners. This will have a significant impact in forging closer links with industry leading to support for my PDRA and PhD students, and help to establish my team as a global centre of excellence in resilience-based design of transport infrastructure. In addition, it has the potential that a series of companies and bridge owners (e.g. Network Rail and Highways England) to adopt my approach, and act as promoter to the wider community.


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Ahmadi E (2020) Lateral dynamic bridge deck-pier interaction for ultra-high-speed Hyperloop train loading in Proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers - Bridge Engineering

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Ahmadi E (2019) On the use of entangled wire materials in pre-tensioned rocking columns in Journal of Physics: Conference Series

Description We have developed anew construction technique for accelerated bridge construction, which is virtually damage free, and resilient to long-term threats (e.g. corrosion) and short-term hazards (e.g. earthquakes).
Exploitation Route We need to do full/large-scale experimental testing under static and dynamic loading.
Sectors Aerospace, Defence and Marine,Construction,Transport

Description Smart Materials and Structures Including Nonlinear Dynamics 
Organisation University of Bristol
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution I conducted the experimental testing, data analysis, and writing the paper in first journal publication. I and my PDRA conducted the experimental testing as well as writing the second journal paper. My PDRA conducted all the data analyses in the second paper.
Collaborator Contribution Prof Fabrizio Scarpa is a world leading researcher in smart materials and structures. His expertise adds a different dimension to this project. His Chinese collaborator gave us some entangled composite material to do a pilot testing at the University of Bristol, which resulted in a journal publication. Dr Nick Alexander and Alicia Gonzalez Buelga have excellent expertise in nonlinear dynamics and experimental dynamics. Dr Alexander provided his time free of charge as in-kind support in analytical modelling, and Dr Gonzalez Buelga provided her time free of charge as in-kind support to this project. Dr Gonzalez Buelga is co-authored in both publication and Dr Alexander is co-authored in one of the publications as a result of this collaboration.
Impact Journal Papers: ---------------------- Kashani, M. M., Gonzalez-Buelga, A., Thayalan, R. P., Thomas, A. R., & Alexander, N. A. (2018). Experimental investigation of a novel class of self-centring spinal rocking column. Journal of Sound and Vibration, 437, 308-324. Kashani, M. M., Ahmadi, E., Gonzalez-Buelga, A., Zhang, D., & Scarpa, F. (2019). Layered Composite Entangled Wire Materials Blocks as Pre-Tensioned Vertebral Rocking Columns. Composite Structures. Conference Paper: -------------------------- Kashani, M. M., & Gonzalez-Buelga, A. (2017). Nonlinear dynamics of self-centring segmental composite rocking column. Procedia engineering, 199, 441-446.
Start Year 2017
Description Interview by International Magazines 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact I had several interviews with Engineer Magazine, New Civil Engineer and Composite Manufacturing.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://www.theengineer.co.uk/spine-bridge-pier/
Description Presentations for leading Civil/Structural Engineering firms in the UK 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact I was invited to give a presentation at Jacobs offices in London and Croydon, as well as Arup's office in London.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
Description The PDRA was shortlisted for the final presentation at IStructE Young Researchers Conference in 2019. 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact IStructE Young Researchers Conference occurs every year. People under 35 years of age can apply. The best ones are shortlisted for oral presentation and the 1st and 2nd PhD students are normally shortlisted for poster presentation. The PDRA of this project was shortlisted for final oral presentation and did very well. He received very positive feedback from industry audience. IStructE publishes the presentation on youtube after the event, and hence, it has an international reach. Here is the link to the our presentation:

Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019