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Engineers dealing with the issue of smart materials typically enhance the function of materials by increasing their carbon content, but this reduces their mechanical performance. The researchers at Northwestern University have developed durable, smarter, and highly functional cement by incorporating nanoparticles into ordinary cement.
Cement being the most widely consumed material on a global scale and the cement industry accounting for 8% of human-caused greenhouse gas emissions, it is high time an effective substitute for conventional cement is developed.
With this thought in mind, Ange-Therese Akono, a civil and environmental engineering professor, turned to nano-reinforced cement for a solution.
Akono, the study's lead author, explained that while nanomaterials significantly reduce the carbon footprint of cement composites, little was known about their effect on fracture behavior until now. "The role of nanoparticles in this application has not been understood before now, so this is a major breakthrough," Akono said. "As a fracture mechanics expert by training, I wanted to understand how to change cement production to enhance the fracture response."
Traditional fracture testing, which involves casting a series of light beams onto a large block of material, is time-consuming and rarely results in the discovery of new materials.
Akono's lab could obtain accurate predictions on the material's properties in a fraction of the time by employing an innovative technique called scratch testing. The method involves pressing a conical probe against the surface of microscopic bits of cement, with increasing vertical force. She explained that it requires less material and speeds up the discovery of new ones.
The implications of the study are wide, ranging from building construction to road maintenance, sensor and generator optimization, and structural health monitoring.
You can read the complete study here.