Mind & Matter


Resilience and Multifunctionality

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Engineered Cement Composites. Photo courtesy of the University of Michigan.


Last Friday I attended the Advanced Materials Council Symposium in Washington, D.C., hosted by the National Institute of Building Sciences. The event featured speakers whose articles will appear in the inaugural issue of the Journal of Advanced and High Performing Materials (JMAT), to be published by NIBS. The lineup included: Carol Johnson (Engineer Research and Development Center) on ballistic-resistant coatings for masonry walls, Thomas Attard (University of Tennessee) on carbon-fiber structural reinforcing, Victor Li (University of Michigan) on engineered cement composites or "bendable concrete," and Ahmed Al-Ostaz (University of Mississippi) on nano-particle reinforced polymeric cementitious materials.

Two prominent trends emerged from this diverse collection of advanced materials research: resilience and multifunctionality. Dr. Li’s concrete, for example, is currently used to patch cracked concrete in highway construction as well as provide enhanced shear resistance in new concrete towers. In both cases, the concrete adds significant resilience—after all, the material is 500 times more crack-resistant than regular concrete. Moreover, Li is developing this concrete technology to incorporate sensing and self-repair capabilities. According to Li, future concrete will operate similarly to human skin. It will “sense” degradation, make a report to the proper authorities (like a Department of Transportation for highway construction) about the location and severity of the decay, and initiate a healing process on its own. Li adds that concrete is not the only resilient and multifunctional material available, and reports that we will see these capabilities emerge increasingly in other material families as well.



Comments (2 Total)

  • Posted by: Anonymous | Time: 2:56 AM Tuesday, July 09, 2013


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  • Posted by: Anonymous | Time: 4:25 PM Tuesday, December 21, 2010

    Blaine, these materials are all well and good, but what about materials for the common man? Even traditional materials used innovative ways. I don't see those other than the starchitect set or, say those involved with ATFP issues or other extreme building issues to find much utility in this stuff. Not to down play it's significance, in fact I like to see it here, but I'd like to see you use your focused forum here to address the refinement of the current-kit-of-parts which our typical project budgets can access.

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About the Blogger

Blaine Brownell

thumbnail image Minnesota-based architect and author Blaine Brownell, AIA, is a self-defined materials researcher and sustainable building adviser. His "Product of the Week" emails and three volumes of Transmaterial (2006, 2008, 2010) provide designers with a steady flow of inspiration—a 21st-century Grammar of Ornament. Blaine has practiced architecture in Japan and the U.S. and has been published in more than 40 design, business, and science publications. The recipient of a Fulbright fellowship for 2006–07, he researched contemporary Japanese material innovations at the Tokyo University of Science. He currently teaches architecture and co-directs the M.S. in Sustainable Design program at the University of Minnesota. His book Matter in the Floating World was published by Princeton Architectural Press in 2011.