Resilience and Multifunctionality
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.