If you’ve ever idled in bumper-​​to-​​bumper traffic on a bridge, won­dering just how much weight the struc­ture could with­stand, chances are that Northeastern’s Ming Wang could tell you. His mon­i­toring system might even be in place on that very structure.

An inter­na­tion­ally rec­og­nized expert in mon­i­toring the struc­tural health of bridges, tun­nels, and other infra­struc­ture, Wang has gar­nered funding from sources including the National Sci­ence Foun­da­tion, Fed­eral Highway Admin­is­tra­tion, and National Insti­tute of Stan­dards and Tech­nology (NIST). The newly hired pro­fessor of civil and envi­ron­mental engi­neering has invented and holds patents on sev­eral sen­sors and sys­tems used worldwide.

Wang is leading a team of researchers and joint-​​venture part­ners in the devel­op­ment of sen­sors to detect abnor­mal­i­ties in high­ways and bridge decks, a five-​​year, $9 mil­lion project funded by NIST’s Tech­nology Inno­va­tion Pro­gram. Four­teen North­eastern under­grad­uate and grad­uate stu­dents from dis­ci­plines including mechan­ical, elec­trical and com­puter engi­neering, as well as com­puter sci­ence, will participate.

From his sensor tech­nology lab­o­ra­tory on campus, Wang also remotely mon­i­tors some of the world’s largest bridges, gauging the stress, strain, vibra­tion, and move­ment they with­stand in com­muter traffic and weather conditions.

Minute-​​by-​​minute real-​​time read­ings of the Hangzhou Bay Bridge, a cable-​​stayed bridge in China, show how the structure’s 1,600-foot center span, tower and sup­ports react to the weight of cars and trucks, and to the impact of severe weather, such as typhoons. In Hong Kong, the world’s second longest cable-​​stayed span, the 4,300-foot Stone­cut­ters Bridge, is out­fitted exclu­sively with Wang’s sen­sors, which mon­i­tored cable stress during con­struc­tion and since the bridge opened in April 2009.

Wang’s focus on devel­oping infrastructure-​​monitoring tech­nology took hold in 1995, when he was asked to con­sult on the retro­fitting of the Yi Sun-​​Sin Bridge in South Korea, which had shown evi­dence of decay and exces­sive vibration.

I played a major role in the deci­sion to retrofit that bridge, and also helped to develop a mon­i­toring system for the Chungmu Bridge in Korea,” he says. “It was while I was working on these projects that I dis­cov­ered there was a real need for civil engi­neers like myself to develop sen­sors that could warn people when a bridge was nearing crit­ical stress levels.”

Wang, who also played a sig­nif­i­cant role in mon­i­toring and retro­fitting the Kish­waukee Bridge in Rock­ford, Ill., plans to turn his atten­tion to bridges and struc­tures in New England.

It’s an exciting place to study and main­tain,” he says. “New Eng­land has some of the oldest bridges, and states don’t have funding to build all new ones. There­fore, it’s impor­tant to main­tain what we have.”

Wang holds a doc­torate in struc­tural dynamics and random vibra­tion from the Uni­ver­sity of New Mexico.