MIT study: Microscopic structure of natural materials can inspire better concrete

Bones and sea sponges are highly organized at the molecular level, while concrete consists of random composites.

June 01, 2016 |
MIT study: Microscopic structure of natural materials can inspire better concrete

Photo: BEV Norton/Creative Commons

Researchers at MIT have found that natural materials like bones, shells, and sea sponges are as strong microscopically as they are to the touch.

The construction industry can learn from this.

According to the National Post, a recently published paper in the journal Construction and Building Materials examines a tough and long-lasting substance called nacre. Found inside of mollusks, nacre has a brick-like arrangement of minerals, forming a strong bond between layers. 

The molecular organization of nacre contrasts from Portland concrete, a staple of construction across the world. Made of crushed rocks bounded by cement paste, concrete strength is largely based on guesswork, researchers say. 

Considering this, more attention is being paid to biomimetics, the study of materials that mimic nature.

“There is a wide range of techniques that are well established for studying the complexities of biological and biomimetic materials, which can be easily translated into the cement community,” Admir Masic, an MIT professor and co-author of the study, told MIT News.

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