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April 15th, 2008

If walls could speak, they'd say 'innovation'

Concrete is created by mixing cement, water, gravel and sand; typically these ingredients are mixed in a truck at a cement plant. When it arrives at the construction site, ideally the concrete should be like a thick liquid that can be easily shaped into moulds. But sometimes - for instance, the cement truck gets caught in a traffic jam - the concrete is already beginning to set when it arrives at the site, making it difficult to manipulate.

That's where nanotechnology comes in. By controlling the hydration process - the curing of cement into concrete - at the atomic or molecular level, a researcher at the National Research Council's Institute for Research in Construction has found a way to create a more workable concrete. And it has been shown to be a stronger concrete that is less susceptible to cracking.

A controlled-release "superplasticizer" in the cement can work to speed up or slow down hydration. The effect of the superplasticizer is manipulated by adjusting the cement's PH level, as well as other variables, as it cures.

"You can [more] accurately time the hydration process so the concrete will be used at the right time," says Ottawa-based researcher Laila Raki, who is working with a construction chemical company to try to mass market the formula. "In the end, the industry will be able to use a concrete with a longer life span."


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