At first, there was sand. The early Romans were the first to experiment with concrete, mixing lime and volcanic stone to construct imperial structures such as the Pantheon in Rome, still the most massive unreinforced concrete dome in the world.
Over time, engineers and architects have invented ever-new methods to build taller, stronger and more beautiful creations using game-changing materials such as steel girders, earthquake-proof foundations and glass curtain walls.
But what does the future hold for building technology? Will there come a day when noisy construction crews are substituted with swarms of autonomous nanobots?
That’s impossibly tiny. Your fingernail grows approximately 1 nanometer each second. To construct materials in the”nano” scale would seem impossible, but using cutting-edge techniques such as electron-beam lithography, engineers and scientists have created tubes of carbon with walls which are just 1 nanometer thick.
When a bigger particle is divided into progressively smaller parts, the ratio of its surface area to its mass increases. These carbon nanotubes have the highest strength-to-weight ratio of any substance on Earth and may be stretched a thousand times more than their thickness. Carbon nanotubes are so light and powerful they can be embedded into other construction materials like concrete, metals, glass and wood to add density and tensile strength. Engineers are experimenting with nanoscale sensors that could monitor stresses inside construction materials and identify possible cracks or cracks before they happen.
This type of”clear metal” may be used to build towering glass-walled skyscrapers that require less internal support. Safe army buildings could install transparent, translucent metallic windows impervious to the highest-calibre artillery fire. And think of this large aquarium you could build with this stuff!
Back in the 1980s, scientists began experimenting with a novel sort of ceramic made by a powdery mixture of aluminium, oxygen and nitrogen. A ceramic is any hard, usually crystalline material that is produced by process of heating and cooling. In cases like this, the aluminium powder is put under immense pressure, heated for days at 2,000 degrees C (3,632 degrees F) and finally polished to make a perfectly clean, glass-like substance with the strength of aluminium.
Many have said this before but it remains true that concrete is the most widely used building material in the world. In actuality, it’s the second-most consumed substance on Earth, after water. Think of all of the concrete houses, office buildings, bridges and churches built every year. Concrete is economical and widely adaptable, but also, it is vulnerable to cracking and corrosion under pressures like extreme cold and heat.
In 2010, a graduate student and chemical engineering professor at the University of Rhode Island made a new sort of”smart” concrete that”heals” its cracks. The concrete mixture is embedded with little capsules of sodium silicate. When a crack forms, the capsules rupture and discharge a gel-like healing agent that hardens to fill the emptiness.
This isn’t the only system of self-healing concrete. Other researchers have used germs or embedded glass capillaries or polymer microcapsules to attain similar results. However, the Rhode Island researchers consider their strategy is the most cost-effective.
Prolonging the lifespan of concrete might have enormous environmental benefits. Worldwide concrete production accounts for 5% of global carbon dioxide emissions. Smart concrete wouldn’t just make our constructions safer, but also cut back on greenhouse gasses.