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Materials of Cement Science Primer

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Few would argue that concrete is an important and useful material: after all, concrete is the backbone of the world’s infrastructure, used in vast amounts to make roads, buildings, bridges, and other structures. But sometimes familiarity breeds contempt. To most people, concrete is simply that boring grey stuff that we see all around us, about which everything important must be known by now. Not true! Concrete may be somewhat boring when viewed at the macroscopic scale (meaning what you see with your unaided eyes), but at the microscopic scale (i.e., features too small to be seen without a microscope) it is both interesting and complex. And surprisingly enough, due to its complexity there are still many things that scientists do not fully understand about the chemistry and microscopic structure of concrete. This web site will provide an overview of the complex structure of concrete, the chemical reactions that form this structure, and the resulting properties – both good and bad. Along the way we will point out the things that aren’t fully understood, even by the scientists who study concrete. In the discipline of Materials Science, the key rule can be summed up as “knowledge is power” – the more knowledge you have about the structure of a material and how to alter it, the more power you have to improve the properties of the material to make it perform better and in a wider range of applications. The best example of this is steel. While steel has been used for hundreds of years, only in last few decades have materials scientists come to fully understand exactly what happens when various alloying elements and processing methods are used to make steel. As a result, the properties of steel (such has strength and toughness) and the range of applications for steel have both improved more in the last 20 years than in the preceding century. Concrete, on the other hand, has not reached that point. We understand the basics, but we have not reached that elegant and powerful state of knowledge where we can predict exactly what will happen to the properties of concrete when we add certain chemicals or cure it in a specific way. However, important advances are being made, and the next 20 years may well become the “renaissance” period for concrete as the last 20 years has been for steel. If this happens, we will not only have better and longer-lasting concrete structures, but we will see concrete used in completely new applications. So the answer to the question in the title of this section is yes!

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  • 08/14/2017
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