Spotting defects in a building’s structure before it manifests itself as serious damage is of the utmost importance. Regular maintenance is the responsibility of the building manager, however only so much can be seen by looking at the surface, and cracks in walls or ceilings are often an indication of being too late. However, an international group of researchers have recently received a grant from Spiro Latsis and the John S. Latsis Public Benefit Foundation to try and develop nanocomposite material that can detect structural defects long before they have the opportunity to cause serious damage. There are many advantages to the proposed nanocomposite materials that extend beyond their self-sensing properties and what follows is a brief outline of what they can do.
The John S. Latsis Public Foundation
Without assistance from the John S. Latsis Public Benefit Foundation, the valuable research into self-sensing nanocomposites would not have been able to go ahead. Dr Spiro Latsis, son of Greek entrepreneur and philanthropist, John S. Latsis, agreed with the other members of the board that this research was worthy of a grant from the organisation. Programmes funded by the organisation have to comply with the strict criteria and framework as established by the board, they are assessed according to their sustainability as well as the size of the programme’s impact.
To learn more about the work of the John S. Latsis Public Benefit Foundation, visit the blog from Spiro Latsis where you will discover a host of articles and links to programmes that have already received the organisation’s backing. The blog will also be useful to keep track of what programmes are in the running for the current set of grants and to monitor the progress of current programmes just like this research project into self-sensing nanocomposites.
The Team behind the Research
This particular project is a collaborative effort between four individual researchers. Dr Nikolaos Alexopoulos, a Lecturer at the University of the Aegean and Dr Evangelos P. Favvas from the National Centre for Scientific Research Demokritos have teamed up with French researchers Dr Celia Mercader and Dr Philippe Poulin to try and develop a cost-effective way to measure structural damage. Each member of the team is an expert in their respective field and three of the researchers currently work with similar nanotechnology and specialist materials.
The Purpose of the Project
Having a cheap but reliable way to monitor stress and damage in buildings and other civil engineering works is important in preserving the life of these costly structures as well as the health and safety of the general public. The goal of this research into self-sensing nanocomposites is to determine how viable graphene nano-platelets (GNPs) are as a building material when combined with cement as well as how effective GNPs are at monitoring the integrity of a building.
Of particular importance to the John S. Latsis Public Benefit Foundation and the people of Greece are the numerous sites of cultural and natural heritage that require constant maintenance. If this research is successful then having a low cost option for detecting structural failure in these crucial monuments to Greek history is going to provide a huge advantage to those tasked with maintaining them.
The Research Method
Given that before the project started it was yet unknown whether the GNPs would combine with the cement matrix to form a viable building material. This relied on the GNPs aligning effectively once they were mixed to reinforce the material, instead of clumping together which had previously been observed. The research team therefore has to overcome this aggregation in order to move forward with the rest of the research.
Once the GNP-cement mix has been prepared, it is time to test both the electric conductivity of the mix, which is important in determining the self-sensing aspect of the material and the durability of the mix. The former will be measured using the 2-wire Ohms method, with the latter being assessed using a three-point bend test.
Following these tests, the research team will perform an inspection of the GNP-cement mix to determine the durability of the material on a microscopic level. The aim of all these rigorous tests will hopefully determine whether this particular mix of GNPs and cement could prove useful in detecting structural faults in civil engineering works.
Funding Projects for the Future
The John S. Latsis Public Benefit Foundation has always looked ahead when considering new projects to back, just like the team’s research into new building materials. If the team is successful then this has the potential of changing the way the world builds and maintains everything from homes to skyscrapers, bridges and tunnels. This new technology could save lives in areas prone to earthquakes and prevent the continued decline of the world’s heritage sites.