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Nanotech and Wireless Guard Against Earthquakes 45

Roland Piquepaille writes "Two separate efforts using technology to protect people from earthquakes have recently been in the news. At the University of Leeds, UK, researchers will use nanotechnology and RFID tags to build a 'self-healing' house in Greece. The house's walls will contain nanoparticles that turn into a liquid when squeezed under pressure, flow into cracks, and then harden to form a solid material. The walls will also host a network of wireless sensors and RFID tags that can alert the residents to an imminent earthquake. Meanwhile, another team at the Washington University in St. Louis is using a wireless sensor network to limit earthquake damages."
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Nanotech and Wireless Guard Against Earthquakes

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  • by Reverse Gear ( 891207 ) * on Monday April 16, 2007 @02:03AM (#18747485) Homepage
    I remain skeptical of the idea of the self healing house, I think that it might work in just the opposite direction of what is intended if not very careful, kind of like if the dampers in the other article linked to gets out of sync with the waves of the quake (or maybe rather into sync) creating resonance instead of weakening the resonance.

    First thing I don't like about this idea of nano-particles turning into liquid is this. Imagine a solid structure being put under pressure, as the pressure increased a tiny fraction of the material is turned into liquid, my immediate idea is that this would weaken the structure increasing the risk of a collapse. Sure it might be nice if the liquid later filled out the tiny cracks in the structure, but if the entire thing has collapsed by then, what good will it do?
    The second thing I don't like is that these cracks that will be filled out in structure represent unevenness in the entire structure. I can't help but think that it would resemble using uneven bricks for a house. I can see that this could give extra strength to the building if they are used very carefully, but if you just put one uneven block into an entire building it will make it more unstable.
    Maybe if the blocks are to uneven they will liquefy and turn into the right structure for creating the most possible strength, I guess it depends on how much pressure would be put on a given unevenness.
    Also wouldn't this leave the building a lot more vulnerable to the next earthquake?
    All this is said knowing very little about the detail of this idea, it is just my immediate thoughts being confronted with this.

    The idea to have the building itself alert the inhabitants is nice, it would especially be nice if the building would warn if there had been a minor quake that is not noticeable for humans but still might be the warning that a bigger quake will soon happen.
    • by Max Littlemore ( 1001285 ) on Monday April 16, 2007 @02:44AM (#18747661)

      Imagine a solid structure being put under pressure, as the pressure increased a tiny fraction of the material is turned into liquid, my immediate idea is that this would weaken the structure increasing the risk of a collapse.

      I was wondering about this as well. For as long as the liquid is, well, liquid, surely it wouldn't have any structural strength, so this would effectively make a building more likely to fall apart under stress. Or if the liquid solidifies quickly, what happens when a gap gets filled under temporary expansion and is then suddenly compressed? I'd put money on rubble.

      In my opinion, a much more sensible idea for housing in earthquake prone areas can be found here [] (warning: contains video). It's designed to stay up and not crush people while an earthquake is happening. After the earthquake it can be safely demolished and rebuilt for a fraction of the cost of automagichanical fluidic nanobeads or fancy electrological shock absorber doodads.

      But then low tech and simple solutions that just work are never as cool as nano electronic opto whatsits. Certainly not as profitable.

      • My first though was what if it's a bit slow to set? Your house collapses on you, and then the rubble solidifies making it even harder for the rescuers to dig you out.

        I totally support parents comments about low-tech.

        • at the same time you don't have to worry about that rubble above you collapsing further, as it has solidified.
          • Re: (Score:1, Interesting)

            by chtank ( 83512 )
            Oh come on guys, wouldn't it be better to understand who it works before saying this it not going to work. WE have had self-sealing fueltanks in military aircraft since WWII which uses a similiquid to fill the hole and seal if from fuel loss. NASA is (has) developed self healing composites for the skin of aircraft and spacecraft from the nanotechnology research. From an engineering standpoint, when we have new and revolutionary ideas put forth it means someone is thinking and not simply reacting against any
    • by EmbeddedJanitor ( 597831 ) on Monday April 16, 2007 @03:59AM (#18747963)
      Many old mortars such as lime absorb CO2 and get harder with time. If lime mortar cracks while young, it will absorb CO2 and fill up those cracks.
    • Sorry Miss (Score:1, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward
      your husband is stuck in the gone-to-liquid-back-to-solid walls of your house. But we'll get him out when we get an aftershock
    • by Halo1 ( 136547 ) on Monday April 16, 2007 @05:31AM (#18748263)

      Imagine a solid structure being put under pressure, as the pressure increased a tiny fraction of the material is turned into liquid, my immediate idea is that this would weaken the structure increasing the risk of a collapse.

      I'm not sure. If nothing can liquify, then the high pressure will make everything crumble. A pile of sand, so to speak, doesn't have much structural integrity. Conversely, if part of the pressurised solids convert to liquid and thereby keep the rest of the solid material whole, I would think overall integrity would be stronger since the pressure which caused the liquifying in the first place also keeps everything pressed together. And once the pressure stops the liquids solidify again, thereby reinforcing the building's own structural integrity again in the absence of external pressure.

    • the good part would be that we would all live in a SMURF like home afterwards
  • This is an automated comment generated by a grease monkey script. If you agree that this is posted by a blog whore, or if you do not want to read any future articles with no useful or new content, you can gray out all Roland Piquepaille articles with this script: [] []


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  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 16, 2007 @02:21AM (#18747557)
    People will have houses of strange bulging shapes with upper floor overhangs which are now glued into position and cannot be altered?

    I welcome our new earthquake reigion overlords dwelling in surreal melting houses!


    1) build house
    2) have earthquake
    3) charge people $1.50 to view strange 'Leaning House of Athens'
    4) ??
    5) Profit!

  • that turn into a liquid when squeezed under pressure, flow into cracks, and then harden to form a solid material.

    OK this place is really going down hill? Whatever is happening to good taste and decorum these days?

    This sounds like some badly written erotic literature.
  • Sigh... (Score:5, Informative)

    by cy_a253 ( 713262 ) on Monday April 16, 2007 @02:27AM (#18747591)
    This is not "nanotech" just because you have nanoparticles. This is applied chemistry and materials science.

    Try holding-up a piece of aluminum foil to a lighter flame. The black residue created contains good amounts of C60 buckyballs and other broken bits of nanotubes. These things have always been around. Nanotech means ATOMIC CONTROL, not just nanoparticles. Like this: on=com_content&task=view&id=60&Itemid=57 []
  • Misleading title.... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by zappepcs ( 820751 ) on Monday April 16, 2007 @02:29AM (#18747601) Journal
    Sheesh, " Nanotech and Wireless Guard Against Earthquakes" makes it sound like they have something that works on actual earthquakes. Technically these technologies do not guard, the attempt to limit damage done to structures during an earthquake. This is a far cry from guarding against something.

    An automotive airbag does not "guard against" accidents!

    We all know about how much damage an airbag deployment causes, I wonder how much actual damage these technologies can prevent. Getting everyone out alive is important, but if the remaining structure is left distorted and unrepairable, the cost will probably be more than most want to spend. Safety is one thing, going broke just in case is another.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by foniksonik ( 573572 )
      Depends how quickly the material liquifies under pressure and then restabiizes... if it does it within milliseconds, migrates to the area left cracked and then hardens in place all you have to worry about is a slightly off plum wall or a wall/foundation with a little shift in it.

      Comparing this to an airbag is ridiculous... maybe if you picked crumple zones? Yes crumple zones are a far more accurate comparison if you have to go to vehicle safety measures to make your point.

      To answer your statement... this wo
  • To the practical []...(?)
  • Brute force (Score:2, Insightful)

    Two separate efforts using technology to protect people from earthquakes (emphasis mine)

    As opposed to efforts using what, brute force?

    Fair enough, this is a bit of a troll, but it just makes me wonder if certain story submitters have figured out that a title with "Nanotech" and "Wireless" is best followed up with a starting line containing "Technology" in order to maximize story acceptance rate.

    Especially considering that the actual articles are remarkably low on content/references/links...
  • by ushering05401 ( 1086795 ) on Monday April 16, 2007 @02:53AM (#18747705) Journal
    i grew up in southern california and went through many earthquakes. paying attention to things like securing brick facades, anchoring furniture to walls, and buying adhesive pads for the bases of vases etc combined with improved building codes has nearly eradicated earthquake related deaths in that area.

    my question is... could this whole gap filling technology be used to upgrade security for space vehicles..

    i can't find links but read something about micro-meteorite protection systems already (i think) in place.

    can anyone with better knowledge chip in here?
  • by edwardpickman ( 965122 ) on Monday April 16, 2007 @03:03AM (#18747749)
    Geodesic domes are unaffected by earthquakes and tend to ride them out with little or no damage. The downside is people still want their ranch houses. Unless you build to the environment it's doubtful science can completely protect you. You can make them more resistent but so long as asthetics come first the resistence will be limited. Ever drive around the mountains in LA? There are sedimentary rocks with lines going straight up. Large building sized rocks that are part of the San Andreas fault have bounced tens of miles. In reality nothing is earthquake proof but if you're in a geodesic dome odds are you'll have the last house standing.
    • domes are cool, but having spent a little time in one i can't recommend the experience. a lot of the discomfort was due to not having things that were designed to work in a dome environment... or maybe the place was just too small.

      anyhow, i am with you 100% on building to the environment.

      there has been some interesting work in 'permanent' temporary shelter and my high school actually expanded through adding some of these structures. they were spacious and showed little effect during an earthquake as they
    • by ady1 ( 873490 )

      You can make them more resistent but so long as asthetics come first the resistence will be limited
      While not exactly a Geodesic dome, the architecture used in Muslim Building has the same effect as well as aesthetically pleasing, one of which is Taj Mahal []
    • I like the idea of building to the environment, and I actually have seen several dome houses in California and I liked the look of them, though I never thought about them from a natural disaster perspective. I think there are people out there who would give up their ranch houses for a new design, but nobody would want to be the first to do it. For the first person in a community it is

      1) Wierd. No matter how nice one might be able to make a dome, it would feel strange to be the only one living in one.
  • by Animats ( 122034 ) on Monday April 16, 2007 @03:55AM (#18747941) Homepage

    It's Roland the Plogger again.

    This sounds like a variation on self-sealing gas tanks [], which were first used widely on World War II aircraft.

    It's not all that hard to make earthquake-resistant buildings. You just have to have materials and joints with tensile strength. Steel frame buildings are seldom damaged by earthquakes. Wooden buildings with metal plates reinforcing the joints hold up well. Reinforced concrete does fine if there's enough rebar in the right places and the rebar is welded together.

  • This new science intrigues me, explain to me again how sheep's bladders can be used to prevent earth quakes?
  • If a house built with this manages to collapse, will the rubble glue itself together making any chance of rescue moot?
  • by ray-auch ( 454705 ) on Monday April 16, 2007 @04:25AM (#18748035)
    turn into a liquid when squeezed under pressure, flow into cracks, and then harden to form a solid material

    I can see that being really helpful when you're trying to drill into the wall...

    • by Seumas ( 6865 )
      You could pack this in certain places on your body prior to incarceration to automatically prevent unwanted insertions.
  • This is an ingenious and utterly simple concept that may actually work:

    Scientists at Lehigh University have tested a next-generation "self-centering" system that uses gigantic steel bands to hold building columns and beams in place during an earthquake.

    In allowing the beams and columns to separate, rock and twist independently of one another, the rope-like steel bands -- encased in plastic -- are meant to prevent a building frame from buckling during an earthquake. The system also uses friction plates

Testing can show the presense of bugs, but not their absence. -- Dijkstra