On 15 November 2003, TY Lin, one of the world’s greatest structural engineers, died a day after his 91st birthday. Born in China and working most of his life in the United States, Lin’s impact was mostly in the use of pre-stressed concrete, where concrete is set around steel which is under tension (steel that is being pulled apart). This increases the strength of the concrete. After graduating from Berkeley, Lin went back to China in the 1930s and worked for the Chinese State Railways, responsible for hundreds of bridges in the Chinese hinterland, which made a big impact in economic development.
Outside of structural engineering, he launched an innovative idea to bridge the Bering Strait between the United States and the Soviet Union. It is hard to believe that the US and the Soviet Union were just 50 miles away from each other. The project would need two bridges of 40 kilometres each to reach the Diomede Islands, located nearly in the middle of the Strait itself. A third bridge would then connect the Diomede Islands.
When he was awarded the National Metal for Science, Lin presented the Intercontinental Peace Bridge idea to US President Ronald Reagan. Describing the project, Lin wrote ”Psychologically, this bridge will demonstrate that human energy and technical capabilities can be devoted to constructive rather than destructive measures to the benefit of all mankind.”
The International Peace Bridge may have been just a dream, but looking at the countless trillions that were sunk into the Cold War and the increasing economics around energy in peripheral economies such as Alaska and the Russian region of Chukhotka, the bridge is not as farfetched as it may seem. If questioned about the economics of such a bridge, the immediate counterargument is whether the creation of 20,000+ nuclear weapons was economic from the late 1940s until 1989. We could have destroy ourselves dozens of times over. It is too bad that US-Russian relations are a bit frigid for the moment….