Originally posted by inevitablegod@Apr 22 2006, 07:24 PM
The failure of the bridge occurred when a never-before-seen twisting mode occurred. This is called a torsional, rather than longitudinal, mode (see also torque) whereby when the left side of the roadway went down, the right side would rise, and vice-versa, with the centerline of the road remaining still. Specifically, it was the second torsional mode, in which the midpoint of the bridge remained motionless while the two halves of the bridge twisted in opposite directions. A physics professor proved this point by walking along the centre line, unaffected by the flapping of the roadway rising and falling to each side. This vibration was due to aeroelastic flutter. Flutter occurs when a torsional disturbance in the structure increases the angle of attack of the bridge (that is, the angle between the wind and the bridge). The structure responds by twisting further. Eventually, the angle of attack increases to the point of stall, and the bridge begins to twist in the opposite direction. In the case of the Tacoma Narrows bridge, this mode was negatively damped (or had positive feedback), meaning it increased in amplitude with each cycle because the wind pumped in more energy than the flexing of the structure dissipated. Eventually, the amplitude of the motion increased beyond the strength of a vital part, in this case the suspender cables. Once several cables failed, the weight of the deck transferred to the adjacent cables which broke in turn until almost all of the central deck fell into the water.
whatchu know 'bout torsion?