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THE MATHEMATICAL BRIDGE

Last summer I posted the photo, GONDOLAS OF ENGLAND , showing St. John’s College Bridge, otherwise known as the “Bridge of Sighs” in Cambridge. Then just last week I posted another photo, VIEW OF THE CAM. This is a third in a series of photos of Cambridge University. I was in Cambridge eight months apart on short stints, working on a new book on Isaac Newton. For the latter photo I wrote a detailed note about the birth of the great university and about its unrivaled scientific legacy.

Anyone who has been in a punt on the River Cam has heard the fable of Isaac Newton (1642-1727) having designed the Mathematical Bridge. Balancing forces and torques, in accord with Newton’s 1st law for translation and rotation, the bridge was built sans nails, sans nuts and sans bolts. Then the guides add that the bridge was taken down for restoration, but the engineers could not get it back together again without using connecting bolts. The Mathematical Bridge serves the 550-year old Tudor buildings of Queen’s College (seen on the right), and authorities there offer a different explanation:

“The bridge was built in 1749 by James Essex the Younger (1722-1784) to the design of William Etheridge (1709-1776). It has subsequently been rebuilt to the same design in 1866 and 1905. 
For those who have fallen prey to the baseless stories told by unscrupulous guides to gullible tourists, it is necessary to point out that Isaac Newton died in 1727, and therefore cannot possibly have had anything to do with this bridge. Anyone who believes that students or Fellows could have disassembled the bridge (and then failed to re-assemble it, as the myth runs) cannot have a serious grasp on reality, given the size and weight of the wooden members of the bridge. The joints of the present bridge are fastened by nuts and bolts. Earlier versions of the bridge used iron pins or screws at the joints, driven in from the outer elevation.”

In the 70s when I first heard the Newton-fable, I too had fallen victim to the ruse, but with raised eyebrows. I am happy to see the proper explanation. The young man in the punt is a Cambridge University student, and like many other students, earns pocket money by giving visitors short excursions on the River Cam. I cannot imagine that he would proliferate the myth of Newton. I shot the present photo standing on a bridge close by, using my compact camera, Nikon s600. The white balance was set on cloudy sky, ISO 200, 3648x2736 pixels, f/3.9, 4.1MB.

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Additional Photos by Bulent Atalay (batalay) Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Star Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 6057 W: 463 N: 10511] (35367)
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