Last updated: 08 May 2012

Today on the Science Café Adam Walton explores the history, the engineering and the art of bridges.

Broadcast Tuesday 8th May at 7pm

Listen to the latest programme online

Second Severn Crossing

From the Severn Bridge to Tower Bridge, Sydney Harbour Bridge to the Golden Gate in San Francisco, bridges link us to each other and inspire us. In this week's programme Adam explores the challenges involved in designing and building a bridge and discovering how engineers combine form and function in a structure that's reliable, safe and even beautiful.

Adam starts his journey at Quaker's Yard near Merthyr Tydfil where he talks to engineering historian Stephen K. Jones about the history of bridge-building in Wales. They take a stroll along the Taff Trail for a look at Isambard Kingdom Brunel's Goitre Coed railway viaduct, built for the Taff Vale Railway.

Adam and Stephen K. Jones at Goitre Coed Railway Viaduct

Then we move on to Chepstow, home of bridge engineering company Mabey Bridge. The company can trace its history back to the construction of Isambard Kingdom Brunel's railway bridge across the Wye in 1849 and today it supplies bridges all over the world. Adam joins chairman Peter Lloyd who takes him into the company's enormous workshop where they're currently putting together the components for a bridge to cross the river at Walton-on-Thames.

Not far from Mabey's headquarters in Chepstow is one of its most famous projects, the original Severn Bridge opened in 1966. This is where Adam has arranged to meet Prof. David Blockley from the Faculty of Engineering at the University of Bristol. As they stand on the old bridge and look towards the Second Severn Crossing, David tells Adam how to 'read' a bridge: the different structures engineers use, the forces at work in a bridge and how bridges can be beautiful as well as functional.

Adam and Prof. Daivid Blockley on the Old Severn Bridge

We also hear about an initiative which aims to inspire a new generation of bridge designers. Bridge to Schools is organised by the Institution of Civil Engineers and the idea is to teach school children fundamental principles of engineering by letting them build their own bridge. Science Café producer Tracy Cardwell went along to a recent Bridge to Schools event at Rhosesni High School in Wrexham to find out how the pupils of Wat's Dyke Primary School rose to the challenge.

Mabey Bridge

David Blockley's Bridges Website

Severn River Crossing plc

Institution of Civil Engineers -Wales

Further Reading
'Bridges - The Art and Science of the World's Most Inspiring Structures' by David Blockley. Published by Oxford University Press

'Brunel in South Wales' by Stephen K.Jones. Published by The History Press

New website

iPlayer Radio logo

Listen online

A new look for BBC Radio online: listen live on your computer - and now on your smartphone.

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.