MIT Study Examines Building Material Performance At Micro-Scale

Alice Waugh, at MIT’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, recently wrote about a new study that may significantly alter our understanding of the performance and longevity of building materials. As she explains, for more than one hundred years, engineers have applied the continuum approach to understanding material deterioration. The underlying assumption to this theory is that a given material behaves uniformly in response to stress – a “macro” approach. However, as in the case of moisture presence in concrete, dynamic forces are acting at a molecular level.

MIT researchers have used a technique called molecular dynamics simulation to study how materials interact at the molecular level and recently applied it for the first time to take a close look at the interface between epoxy and silica, one of the primary molecules forming concrete. Epoxy is often used to bond a stretchy supportive fabric or a thin plate made of reinforced polymer composites to concrete structures in order to increase the strength and durability of the structure. Specifically, they are interested in how this interface changes when it gets wet. The researchers hope their work will introduce a new paradigm for structural and design engineers to use when predicting the lifespan of building components and large structures.

MIT’s Oral Buyukozturk, Markus Buehler, Denvid Lau and Chakrapan Tuakta recently published their findings in the International Journal of Solids and Structures. The study combines the disciplines of chemistry and mechanics and is supported by the National Science Foundation.