I am sure that I am not the only one that thought of this overwhelmingly punny title. I am also sure that I am not the only ME student that doesn’t give CE projects a second thought usually. Although I love making fun of my CE friends, it is always meant to be tongue in cheek, and dams are a wonderful example of a mechanical-civil spillway.
Dams have been used for thousands of years to control water levels for irrigation purposes, civil water supplies, and most recently, for hydroelectric power. Many of the first dams consisted of simple straightedge gravity structures, with the arch dam coming along around 1 B.C. courtesy of the Romans. As math, science, and engineering progressed, dam design followed suit. By now, as engineering students we realize the importance of shape and stress concentration, and so arch-gravity dams such as the famous Hoover Dam make perfect sense to us.
There are two common arch dam design parameters in use today, the uniform angle or uniform radius designs. Uniform angle dams maintain the same angle from the “toe” to the top of the damn via a hypotenuse and the radius of the arch will vary as such. Uniform radius dams maintain the same curvature on their top. In a gravity dam, the sheer weight of the structure itself (yes, weight) is the force that balances out the hydroforces. Hey, what do you think an arch-gravity dam does!? BAM (DAM?), the combo!
Fluid statics problems are essential to the design of these structures. Determining the static force created by the water is only one major step when it comes to the shape of the structure, and the material used to construct it. To take it a step further, fluid dynamics problems can be constructed to determine something more in the ME realm, turbine design. (Hey, I love jet turbines! Maybe I love water turbines too!) The Three Gorges Dam in China is rated at 22,500 MW! That is awesome.
Here is an amazing website for more insight into everything that goes into dam design for anyone that wants to appreciate how great these things can be.
Thanks for reading,