They say an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, but in this case it's more like tons and tons of the latter. Researchers at North Carolina State University have developed a sort of "sensing skin" that can make it easier to detect faults and damage in concrete structures before they fail and need serious repairs.
The skin is actually made from a special paint that incorporates conductive materials like copper, so it's cheap to produce. It's applied to the surface of a concrete structure, and it works alongside a series of electrodes that have been applied to the perimeter of the painted area.
To test the structural integrity of a concrete building, a small current is run between two of the electrodes at a time, and the electrical conductivity between them is recorded. Once testing has been completed between all of the electrodes on a structure, a computer can analyze the results and determine areas where conductivity is weakest, which also happens to correlate to areas where the concrete is cracked or damaged.
To date the system has only been successfully tested on smaller concrete pillars, but the researchers will be scaling up their experiments to see if it can be just as effective on large concrete structures. And while applying the paint and electrodes on existing structures might be tricky, incorporating these materials into new structures is considerably easier, and can lead to improved preventative maintenance. And it all beats the hassles of the major structural repairs it could stave off. [North Caroline State University via Gizmag]