May 12, 2007 A US$18.6 million “self-healing” house will be able to resist earthquakes by sealing cracks in its walls and monitoring seismic vibrations. The walls of the house contain nano polymer particles designed to convert into liquid when under pressure, flow into cracks, and solidify. This would theoretically stabilize the structure after severe seismic trauma. Funded by the European Union, and using technology from Leed University’s NanoManufacturing Institute, the house is to be constructed in Greece by 2010.
The house walls will be built from novel load bearing steel frames and high-strength gypsum board. But they will also contain wireless, battery-less sensors and Leeds-designed radio frequency identity tags that collect vast amounts of data about the building over time, such as any stresses and vibrations, temperature, humidity and gas levels. “If there are any problems, the intelligent sensor network will alert residents straightaway so they have time to escape,” stated Professor Wilkins, of the NMI. Dr Robert Gregory of Leeds added “Even if the building totally collapsed, the sensors would still let you pinpoint the source of the fault.”
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Conventional approaches to seismic management usually involve heavy structural reinforcement or continual, post-construction retrofitting. By employing nanotechnology, the self healing house could revolutionize disaster management. Nanotechnology involves making things with useful scientific properties on a tiny scale - less than one-hundred thousandth the width of a human hair. Professor Wilkins said: “We’re looking to use polymers in much tougher situations than ever before on a larger scale...Once we have the optimum design, we could quickly start producing thousands of litres of nanoparticle fluid, adding just a tiny percentage to the gypsum mix.”