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In its most basic form, a beam bridge consists of a
horizontal beam that is supported at each end by
piers. The weight of the beam pushes straight
down on the piers.

The beam itself must be strong so that it doesn't


bend under its own weight and the added weight of
crossing traffic. When a load pushes down on the
beam, the beam's top edge is pushed together
(compression) while the bottom edge is stretched
(tension).
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Take a two-by-four and place it on top of two empty milk crates --
you've just created a crude beam bridge. Now place a 50-pound
weight in the middle of it. Notice how the two-by-four bends. The
top side is under compression and the bottom side is under
tension. If you keep adding weight, eventually the two-by-four will
break. Actually, the top side will buckle and the bottom side will
snap.
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