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By Matt Evans, Reporter
The Business Journal of the Greater Triad
When you smash a piece of concrete, it generally breaks into jagged chunks. That's a problem when it happens because a mortar shell or other explosive hit the concrete, and soldiers or civilians are nearby.
You can make concrete that blasts into powder instead of chunks, but scientists don't fully understand what's happening at the molecular level to allow that. The U.S. Army and Ram Mohan, an associate professor of nanoengineering at the Joint School of Nanoscience and Nanoengineering in Greensboro, are now trying to find out.
The Army Research Office has awarded a contract worth $1.8 million to Mohan to study the cause and effect — and the implications. It is the largest of three Army contracts totaling $3.5 million that the school has won to date.
"If it just crumbles then you won't have chunks flying all over the battlefield, and you won't have the kind of secondary damage that causes," Mohan said, noting that many casualties are caused by such debris rather than the explosion itself. "But why did it change? We need to know what's going on at the nano level and how those changes build up to the micro and macro levels, which will allow us to better design structures with these types of materials in the future."
Gaining a more fundamental understanding of the molecular change involved in making safer concrete panels could have non-military applications as well, Mohan said, such as safer building materials for use in earthquake zones.
Mohan's project is one of three sizable contracts from the Army Research Office secured by the nanoengineering faculty at the JSNN so far. The JSNN is a joint facility run by N.C. A&T State University and UNC-Greensboro, and it recently opened a $65 million building on the South Campus of the Gateway University Research Park.
Other faculty members to secure contracts are Ajit Kelkar, who won a $1.2 million contract to explore the molecular-level interaction of material systems and their biological constituents; and Shanti Iyer, whose contract for $563,497 will look at semiconductor nanowires that could lead to inexpensive and portable lasers for countermeasures or detection systems.
"The Department of Nanoengineering is off to a fast start in research," said James Ryan, dean of the JSNN. "Competing successfully for $3.5 million in research funding in the department's first year and a half of operation is a tribute to both the quality of these researchers and the value of their work."
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