Many of us awoke yesterday to shocking footage of the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore collapsing after a fully-laden container ship ploughed into one of its supporting pylons.

My first thought was “How did that happen?” And then shortly afterwards, looking at the relative sizes of the bridge and the ship, I wondered “Actually, why doesn’t that happen more often?”

So I got in touch with bridge engineering expert Colin Caprani, who had some answers. The people who build bridges go to a lot of trouble to protect them from exactly this kind of accident, surrounding the supports with defensive concrete “dolphins”, fenders, and even artificial islands.

What went wrong in Baltimore, Caprani writes, seems to have been a bridge built in the 20th century blindsided by one of the 100,000-tonne container ships that have become increasingly common in the 21st.

The tragedy is a reminder we can’t get complacent about infrastructure like bridges: not only does it need repairs and maintenance, it also needs constant updating to keep pace with changes in the world around it.

Michael Lucy

Science Editor

Baltimore bridge collapse: a bridge engineer explains what happened, and what needs to change

Colin Caprani, Monash University

Bridges are getting safer – but their designers need to keep up with the ever-growing size of cargo ships.

I’ve captained ships into tight ports like Baltimore, and this is how captains like me work with harbor pilots to avoid deadly collisions

Allan Post, Texas A&M University

Two ship pilots were on board the large cargo vessel that hit Baltimore’s Francis Scott Key Bridge. A veteran ship captain describes the role these pilots play in close-quarter maneuvering.

View from the Hill: Albanese hit by unexpected wave as he tries to clear the decks

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

In 2024, we’re seeing a pragmatic, determined, managerial prime minister trying to reinforce the anchors of the ship of state ahead of the May budget.

The consequences of the government’s new migration legislation could be dire – for individuals and for Australia

Jane McAdam, UNSW Sydney; Daniel Ghezelbash, UNSW Sydney; Madeline Gleeson, UNSW Sydney; Tristan Harley, UNSW Sydney

The government has failed in its attempt to ram unprecedented changes to the migration act through parliament. The laws, now being reviewed by a senate committee, could be disastrous.

Gangs, kidnappings, murders: why thousands of Rohingya are desperately trying to escape refugee camps by boats

Ruth Wells, UNSW Sydney; Max William Loomes, UNSW Sydney

The number of Rohingya trying to escape Bangladesh by boat has risen 74% since October. Increasing lawlessness in the camps is one of the major push factors.

How can schools make sure gifted students get the help they need?

Maria Nicholas, Deakin University; Andrew Skourdoumbis, Deakin University; Ondine Bradbury, Monash University

New research finds teachers tend to have tailored approaches to help students performing below standard, but not for their gifted peers.

Dating apps: Lack of regulation, oversight and competition affects quality, and millions stand to lose

Neil McArthur, University of Manitoba

Dating apps provide a valuable social service. The industry should be regulated to protect consumers, increase competition and address fraud.

The first pig kidney has been transplanted into a living person. But we’re still a long way from solving organ shortages

Christopher Rudge, University of Sydney

Champions of xenotransplantation see it as the solution to organ shortages across the world. But this technology has other applications.

A philosopher makes the case for a thoughtful life – but life is more than a thought experiment

Oscar Davis, Bond University

Svend Brinkmann’s idea of thoughtfulness is not just about exercising our rational powers to solve puzzles, but the existential dimensions of thinking.

Art depicts Jesus in a loincloth on the cross – the brutal truth is he would have been naked

David Tombs, University of Otago

Each Easter we see many images of Jesus on the cross – inevitably wearing a loincloth. But the historical evidence shows victims of crucifixion were fully naked to maximise shame as well as pain.

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