Science could help to safeguard Birnbeck Pier

The future of Weston-super-Mare's Birnbeck Pier is closer to being understood, thanks to new technology which will reveal the precise state of decay of the Victorian structure.

The North Somerset pier, listed on English Heritage's 'At Risk' register, is the first historic structure to trial a new monitoring and assessment system being developed by the University of Bath and Eatec engineering consultants in Yate, near Bristol.

The system will monitor vibrations in the pier caused by the wind and waves, and for the first time interpret these results to present a detailed picture of the exact damage and where repair work should take place.

The monitoring will continue remotely for six months and provide the conservation engineers and English Heritage with useful data to minimise intervention and costs, while maximising the preservation of the historic structure.

Howard Richardson, a postgraduate student in the Department of Architecture & Civil Engineering, is working as an intern on the project through a Graduate Experience Scheme funded by the government. The scheme includes expert input from his academic supervisor, Dr Dina D'Ayala, senior lecturer in Conservation Engineering, and expert consultant on several projects of structural conservation of World Heritage Sites.

Howard said: "We're developing a new type of service that is allowing us to remotely monitor the pier and use the data to find out exactly what is happening to its structure. We're expecting to find that there are vulnerable areas that need fairly immediate attention, but until we complete the project in the next month or so, we won't know whether or not the prognosis is much worse."

(l to r) Brian Jarvis, Director of Eatec, Howard Richardson postgrad intern, Jon Avent from Mann Williams, consultant civil and structural engineers and Dr Dina D'Alaya academic adviser to the project

(l to r) Brian Jarvis, Director of Eatec, Howard Richardson postgrad intern, Jon Avent from Mann Williams, consultant civil and structural engineers and Dr Dina D'Alaya academic adviser to the project

The project is bringing together expertise from the University and Eatec, through a government scheme that funds graduate interns to work in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) companies, and is the first of its kind at the University of Bath.

Brian Jarvis, Director of Eatec, said: "The scheme has been tremendously beneficial for us because we've been able to pool academic and commercial expertise to produce new technology which is going to have real commercial value. The system will be giving us information about how historic buildings and sensitive structures are affected by environmental events, including construction and demolition work, in a way that's not been done before."

Eatec plan to use the technology on cathedrals and other historic buildings.

The Graduate Experience Scheme provides businesses with a first class graduate who is taking a masters degree at the University. Companies are asked to contribute £10,000 towards the cost of the fees and academic supervision.

For more information please email Clive Bailey, Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) Programme Manager, or call 01225 385201.

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