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For the past year or so, I’ve been keeping loose track of research and development into improving the ways concrete is made. I’ve blogged about researchers at Cardiff University in Wales who were developing self-repairing cement using shape-memory polymers and bacteria. Laura Sanchez—the editor of our sister publication, Water Efficiency—blogged about incorporating fungi into the mixing process in order to create concrete with the ability to self-heal.

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Now I’m hearing about scientists at Purdue University infusing concrete with microscopic nanocrystals that came from wood to make the concrete stronger.

Here’s how Construction Connect explains it:

“The research team at Purdue hopes the cellulosic nanocrystals—which are about 100 nm long and five nm wide—will yield stronger concrete through a chemical reaction that increases the hydration of the cement particles it contains.

Jeffrey Youngblood, a professor of materials engineering at Purdue, says ‘Concrete scales with the degree of hydration. So the more hydrated it is, the stronger it is.

‘So you’d think that if you add more water, the concrete would be stronger. The problem is water adds pores that make it weaker. But cellulose nanocrystals enhance hydration with less water, making the concrete stronger.’”

Apparently, nanostructured materials can have different magnetic properties and can sometimes conduct heat and electricity better, or reflect light better, or even make concrete stronger.

The hope with the nanoparticle-infused concrete is that since it ends up being stronger, builders will use less of it and be able to cut down costs.

How could something so small turn out to be so incredibly strong? The truth is that it’s not really known why nanocrystals can make concrete stronger.

And no one really knows what makes Mighty Mouse so powerful…something so small, and so incredibly strong.

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