Sea Urchin Spines Inspire Stronger Cement

January
2018

Concrete has been a mainstay in construction for millennia. Most forms of concrete, however, have an unordered structure. Although concrete’s tremendous compressive strength allows it to be used in dams and bridges, this lack of a fixed structure takes a toll on concrete’s elasticity and flexural strength.

Concrete is a mixture of aggregates, such as sand and rock, held together by cement and water. Calcium silicate hydrate (CSH) forms when cement and water mix, and serves as the binding agent in concrete.

Recent discoveries are paving the way for dramatic improvements in concrete with a solution in an unlikely place: the sea urchin.

An international team of researchers has demonstrated a new technique for rearranging particles of CSH on a nanoscale level to give CSH-based concrete higher strength when it is flexed. “We have changed the nanostructure of cement and made it more ordered by taking inspiration from the sea urchin spine structure,” says Dr. Helmut Cölfen, a professor in the Dept. of Chemistry at the Univ. of Konstanz in Germany. “Our work shows that it is possible to order the nanoplatelets and interspace them with a soft polymer material.”

To find ways to improve concrete, the team turned to...

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