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Iron Alloy Could Create Earthquake-Proof Buildings 107

separsons writes "Researchers at Japan's Tohoku University designed a new shape memory metal alloy. The super elastic iron alloy can endure serious stretching and still return to its original shape. The scientists say that once optimized, the material could be used in everything from braces to medical stents to earthquake-proof buildings!"
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Iron Alloy Could Create Earthquake-Proof Buildings

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  • by nickersonm ( 1646933 ) on Thursday March 25, 2010 @01:42AM (#31607492)

    Original article, after following three backlinks: http://uk.reuters.com/article/idUKTRE62I4AE20100319 [reuters.com]

  • TFA short on details (Score:5, Informative)

    by wizardforce ( 1005805 ) on Thursday March 25, 2010 @01:45AM (#31607504) Journal

    Here's a page with a bit more detail. [metapress.com] These alloys are of similar composition to stainless steel and tend to have very high levels of Nickel and a little Chromium tossed in for good measure. Shape memory alloys work by utilizing a crystal structure phase transition that causes stress in the alloy to re-align which basically is responsible for the shape change.

  • Modern construction techniques and materials are actually really good. Except for the occasional airliner or two crashing into them, our buildings are able to withstand tremendous strain. These days, most new buildings in the modern world are built with these techniques and materials. Flexible yet firm. Light yet strong. We've come a long way in this respect.

    But we also have the money to build these things. Take a look at some recent tragedies caused by earthquakes. Bam, Chile, etc. These aren't places that

    • by jgardia ( 985157 ) on Thursday March 25, 2010 @02:46AM (#31607720)

      In Chile the earthquake was 8.8, and the deaths were about 500 (about half because of the tsunami).
      By law, you have to build everything to withstand an 8. I'm not sure if you've been in an earthquake, but I remember perfectly the one in 1985 (was magnitude 8), and it was damned strong. The last one was 6 times bigger.
      Anyway, we've been making anti sismic constructions for decades, and you can see the result in the last earthquake. Very few builings falled (most of them old), and low casualties. There have been also 10+ replicas over 6 since the earthquake (also a 7.2).
      So, please when you want to be pedantic and tell us "Those places will continue to lose people by the thousands every time a 6+ magnitude earthquake hits", please do your homework first. We usually have a 6+ at least once a year.

      • by mlush ( 620447 )

        (In Chilie) By law, you have to build everything to withstand an 8.

        In Chile I suspect it not so much a case of Law, its more akin to natural selection. :-)

        • by Anonymous Coward

          No, it is law, Chile is exceptionally prosperous for the region and with prosperity come building codes.

        • by cenc ( 1310167 ) on Thursday March 25, 2010 @08:12AM (#31608912) Homepage

          Chile is not Haiti. It is not even California. The building codes are law, and they are enforced. However, there is something to the natural selection thing, but not the way you mean.

          Thousands of buildings went through the 8.8 earthquake with little more than a few cracked windows. It looks like total building collapse amounts to 1 building that litterally fell over on its side, and about 100 or so others that failed by design. The ones that failed on a wide scale where 200+ year old adobe houses (mostly one and two story structures). Those adobe structures did survive to some degree because they had never taken a full earthquake. The big ones had always been north or south of the 7th and 8th regions that got hit the hardest by this quake.

          The death however was not really caused by the earthquake, but by the tsunami waves that came 3 hours apart. The navy screwed up by lifting the alert too soon, and people started returning to the beach.

          My office building (15 floors), took an 8.0 about 200 miles from the epicenter. We lost a couple glass doors when the metal frame flexed, a few cracks, and one broken water pipe on a floor. It was built about 10 years ago.

          No one even gets up and leaves the building anymore for anything under a 6.0 around here.

      • We usually have a 6+ at least once a year.

        Yeah? Isn't it ... Time to get out of Dodge!

        They say what doesn't kill you makes you stronger, but Russian roulette doesn't really make you stronger.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by mjwx ( 966435 )

      So this new technology is great, but don't expect to see it saving lives in the Third World. Those places will continue to lose people by the thousands every time a 6+ magnitude earthquake hits. They just don't have the money to build correctly.

      Sorry BAG but I have to disagree with you here. Plenty of third world nations have (or potentially) heaps of money, nations like Indonesia have lots of oil, Thailand has massive exports with food and finished products.

      The problem is twofold, 1. Skills Shortage.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      Chile is not Haiti - at least I don't think it is; I've never been to either one. However, the death toll in Chile was surprisingly low for a magnitude 8.8 earthquake. Sure, older buildings collapsed, just as they do in California and Japan when large earthquakes strike. The death toll in the 1989 Kobe, Japan earthquake was about 5100; more than five times that of the Chilean quake. And Japan is seen as a leader in building earthquake-resistant structures. Obviously, Chile has done something very, very righ
    • actually, those particular buildings the airliners hit were very flimsy cost-reduced crap compared to comparable ones made with normal construction techniques. Normally you'd ruin a perfectly good airplane. Real "skyscrapers" can withstand tremendous strain including the airliners.

      • Do note, it was the fire that did it, not the impact of the airplanes.

        And come to think of it, how does this nifty new metal behave when it is hot? How does it hold up as far as corrosion goes?
        • Impact plus fire would be more accurate. And the thicker and more fire-insulated a structural member, the longer it will take to fail. Part of the "cost reduced crap"-iness I was referring to was use of struts from inner to outer wall, and beams with minimal (though just within regs for the time) fire insulation.

  • Proof? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Elgonn ( 921934 ) on Thursday March 25, 2010 @01:47AM (#31607512)
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)


      True dat. We've had enough earthquake issues without now taunting them.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Khyber ( 864651 )

      make a plane out of this stuff and put it in the air, as long as it is in the air, it's earthquake-proof 100%.

      • by MrNaz ( 730548 )

        Moving on to other news, an aircraft has been destroyed in a freak accident where an earthquake triggered a volcanic eruption and the resulting sudden plume of magma spewed upwards directly hitting the aircraft and causing it to crash. Witnesses reported hearing a deep grumbling sound from the shaking earth, with some claiming they heard the words "your move, puny humans" emanating from the ground.

        • by dgatwood ( 11270 )

          <insurance_adjuster>Hey, we said earthquake-proof. We didn't say it was volcano-proof. Besides, you'll specifically note in the fine print that we disclaim responsibility for all damages due to acts of God.</insurance_adjuster>

  • by JDmetro ( 1745882 ) on Thursday March 25, 2010 @01:52AM (#31607530)
    http://www.physorg.com/news3985.html [physorg.com]
    Even the beams being put into bridges are concrete because they are stronger and lighter than metal.
    • not they aren't (Score:5, Insightful)

      by YesIAmAScript ( 886271 ) on Thursday March 25, 2010 @02:33AM (#31607674)

      Concrete is stronger under compression, but it's so lousy under tension that you put metal into it to take that strain. And how metal is supposed to be stronger than metal I dunno.

      And lighter than metal? Not yet. Tell me when you see stadiums with concrete roofs.

      Also how you're going to resist an earthquake with only compression I dunno.

      Concrete is very good at some things, others not so much.

      Personally I don't like formwork buildings. I know they're really common now I know, and you really can do so much with it I see why architects are interested, but right no I just feel like architects haven't figured out how to make appealing buildings with it yet. Right when we finally broke out of the International style with skyscrapers, it feels like formwork has knocked us back a bit.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Khyber ( 864651 )

        'Tell me when you see stadiums with concrete roofs."

        What sort of stadium? I know of several marine life stadiums with concrete roofs. I can think of one in Florida, one in Washington, and one in Mississippi. I'm sure there are several in Oregon. In fact, the ENTIRE STRUCTURE for these stadiums is solid concrete.

        • You know, a regular-type stadium for football or basketball or whatever. Never heard of an aquarium being called a marine life stadium before.

          If I were building a building designed to hold brine and thus a salt-tinged atmosphere, I'd be tempted to use concrete too. The aquarium in Monterey for example is entirely made of concrete.

          But every sporting-type stadium I know uses a roof made of steel or fabric. Why? Because it's light. The only weight it has to hold up it is own, so the less weight the roof can ha

          • The largest unreinforced concrete dome is about 140 ft wide and has stood for nearly two thousand years. Not nearly large enough for a football field, but not entirely hopeless, either.

          • The Washington Coliseum [blogspot.com] in DC has a thin-shell concrete roof supported by an odd concrete exoskeleton [flickr.com]. The construction method is known as the Zeiss-Dywidag [monolithic.com] process.

            The method was somewhat popular in the early 20th-century, but seems to have fallen from favor after WWII. That said, the Coliseum is still standing, despite a great many years of abandonment and deliberate abuse. That said, it's a prime target for historical preservation, given that it's an architectural oddity, has a rich history (the Beatl

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by Bigjeff5 ( 1143585 )

          The largest concrete dome in the world is in a church about 400+ years old. It is large, but not even close tothe size of conventional buildings, let alone sports stadium. Concrete is great at some things, but not everything.

          Most likely use for memory-steel would be as the internal reinforcement in concrete structures, similar to what they already do, just better.

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by MrNaz ( 730548 )

            No, it won't be better. Think about why the metal is there. If the metal in the concrete is too flexible, the greater brittleness of the concrete will result in the concrete cracking and breaking due to the metal not providing sufficient support.

        • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

          by Anonymous Coward

          Well there was the King Dome in Seattle. As I remember the concrete roof was pretty hard to bring down when its time had come. I believe Seattle WA is considered earthquake country.

      • http://www.lightconcrete.com/cellularconcrete.html [lightconcrete.com]
        I have several years experience as a concrete finisher btw.
      • by Rhys ( 96510 )

        Concrete dome sports arena... you mean like the UofI Assembly Hall? Just sayin'.

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Construction_of_Assembly_Hall_(Champaign) [wikipedia.org]

      • Concrete is stronger under compression, but it's so lousy under tension that you put metal into it to take that strain. And how metal is supposed to be stronger than metal I dunno.

        Absolutely correct here, concrete has very little tensile strength and it is typically reinforced in varying degrees depending on the force distribution being applied to the member. In any other sense than being pedantic, it is not a fair statement to say that the steel is what makes it so special. The majority of the section is concrete steel is limited in AASHTO to 4% by area (if my memory serves me correctly). Anything more than that does not help with additional strength and can actually weaken the mat

      • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pengrowth_Saddledome [wikipedia.org]
        http://www.canada.com/calgaryherald/news/story.html?id=bb367c51-527e-4abc-b61a-39821fa3f0f9 [canada.com]
        "Working with British structural engineer Jan Bobrowski, whose firm still lists the Saddledome on its website, the design team came up with the concept of a roof made of precast concrete panels supported by a net of cables. Think of it as a giant tennis racket, a grid of cables, and on this net you drop these concrete panels,"
      • Tell me when you see stadiums with concrete roofs.

        The Kingdome [wikipedia.org],

        • Well, I made a lot of mistakes there, but in this case I was sure there was a major concrete dome in the US. And I was sure it was to superdome. But I looked it up, it's steel, so I went ahead and spouted my ignorance on the internet.

          I just had the wrong structure, I could have saved myself some embarrassment if I hadn't confused the kingdome with the superdome. They were built at the same time and I just got messed up as to which was which.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by MrMista_B ( 891430 )

      How the hell could you use something like flexible concrete that for braces or medical stents? This new alloy isn't /just/ for earthquakes, you know. And that info's right even there in the summary!

      Flexible concrete is worse for medical stents or braces than this alloy. Ridiculously worse.

    • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

      http://www.physorg.com/news3985.html [physorg.com] Even the beams being put into bridges are concrete because they are stronger and lighter than metal.

      Correction: Even the beams being put into bridges are bendable concrete because they are stronger and lighter than metal.

      More on that Bendable concrete: "Essentially, the fibers create many microcracks with a very specific width, rather than a few very large cracks (as in conventional concrete.) This allows ECC to deform without catastrophic failure" http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bendable_concrete [wikipedia.org]

      But before Bendable concrete this is how things were done: There are 3 kinds of forces, Tension, Compression,

      • Correction: Even the beams being put into bridges are bendable concrete because they are stronger and lighter than metal.

        ECC - Engineered Cementicious Composite - is NOT used in bridges. Your standard I bulb beams are prestressed concrete. It has high strength concrete in it (compression typically > 5500psi) but it is almost never fiber reinforced.

        In fact for that matter the "newer" concrete technologies, ECC, RCC, SCC, to name a few are not widely used in industry. Some projects use them but they are not common.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by fnj ( 64210 )

        Concrete is not "stronger" than steel, it is simply better in compression than steel (it can support more weight).

        That is wildly incorrect. Concrete is very usable in compressive members, and is used for a variety of reasons (cost being an extremely important reason), but none of the reasons is because it is stronger than steel. High strength concrete is defined by the American Concrete Institute as having greater than 6000 psi compressive strength. Concrete with 12,000 psi strength is used in structures

  • From the reuters article:

    Omori said the super-elastic iron alloy may also be used for buildings in earthquake prone areas. "This material can be used for buildings in earthquake zones. The buildings are deformed by earthquake, but super elastic alloy can return the building to its original structure," he added.

    There's no much detail but somehow I don't think that will happen unless he's also invented a 'super-elastic' concrete ..

      • Alright smarty pants .. let me amend that statement

        "I dont' think that will happen unless he's also invented a 'super-elastic' wood, and glass, and made it super-cheap too"

        I threw in super-cheap in just for good measure ;) .. if he achieves all that, then he won't be needing MY congratulations, he'll be too weighed down by filthy lucre to care :D
    • There's no much detail but somehow I don't think that will happen unless he's also invented a 'super-elastic' concrete ..

      Fibre-reinforced concrete already exists. It has pretty amazing properties, a very un-concretelike elasticity included.

      • Then why is it still called "concrete". If we're changing that definition, I'm suddenly very off the hook as far as quoting turnarounds at work based around "concrete" numbers.
        • Re: (Score:1, Troll)

          by AK Marc ( 707885 )
          Then why is it still called "concrete".

          Steel reinforced concrete is called "rebar" or just "concrete." Why should fiber reinforced not carry the same name? You could always call it "fibar."
          • Then why is it still called "concrete". Steel reinforced concrete is called "rebar" or just "concrete." Why should fiber reinforced not carry the same name? You could always call it "fibar."

            "Fibar" would just get confused with "normal" concrete which, when in a collapsed state, is referred to by the scientific term "FUBAR".

          • > Steel reinforced concrete is called "rebar"

            No. That is the shortened name for the steel reinforcement bars placed within the concrete

            • Re: (Score:1, Flamebait)

              by AK Marc ( 707885 )
              That is the shortened name for the steel reinforcement bars placed within the concrete

              I think you are confusing it's name with what it's called. "Rebar" isn't the name of that type of concrete, but is what it's sometimes called. You complained about my answer, but then addressed something completely different.
              • by AK Marc ( 707885 )
                Wow, all my posts on this topic being modded down? There must be one pissed off mod that doesn't like the fact that steel reinforced concrete is called "rebar" my many (most?) people to distinguish it from "pure" concrete.
    • Am I the only one that had an image of Beavis and Butthead walking through So Cal while the buildings are flopping and twitching like bobbleheads, all the time the our dynamic duo going "Boioioioioinggggg!"

  • By the prophet Ayn Rand in her prophecy Atlas Shrugged! The glorious Rearden Metal has come to save us all!!
  • What is important for construction is the load before the metal begins to yield. If the material yields very early, it doesn't matter how well it snaps back into shape, because it you won't actually be able to build a structure out of the stuff. Just look at some plastics, they are very springy, but try make anything out of the them, and the entire structure starts to flex and sway.

    Short version: A material actually needs some stiffness to be practical

    • Indeed, the reason so many buildings failed in Haiti is because they used substandard techniques - aka no rebar to support the concrete, and they probably didn't cure the concrete properly in a lot of cases as well.

      • I know what you mean but steel reinforcement does not support the concrete. It adds tensile strength where the concrete needs it. In an earthquake the building may well be subjected to both in quick succession or simultaneously and so the two can fail unless the building is designed to cope with earthquake-type stresses. That costs extra and that is why the buildings tend to fail.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by wish bot ( 265150 )

      The frequency of oscillation is also important.

      Very flexible materials may not break, but they can lead to standing waves that amplify to literally tear the structure apart.

  • by bdwoolman ( 561635 ) on Thursday March 25, 2010 @04:26AM (#31608038) Homepage

    Vehicle armor especially.

    Body armor maybe -- perhaps too heavy.

    Could work in a weave though.

    • Vehicle armor especially.

      Can we start with fenders?

      • You'll have to deal with the auto body repair lobby first, but then again you'll have the car insurance lobby in your court. Let the name calling begin.
  • by VincenzoRomano ( 881055 ) on Thursday March 25, 2010 @05:10AM (#31608226) Homepage Journal
    In my opinion, in order:
    1. save as many lives as possible and
    2. save as much stuff (money) as possible

    So, a building structure that is capable to remember its original shape is certainly aimed to meet requirement no.2.
    But will hardly meet no.1.
    Can you imagine a building that's "flexible" enough to make stairs and elevators useless to people trying to get out of it?
    And that'd be just the structure. What about the resulting wall rubble?
    Maybe making lower buildings with wider streets in cities could help.
    • It would be better than starting from the ground up again. (assuming its cheap enough in the first place)
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by crimperman ( 225941 )

      How flexible are you expecting this stuff to be? I doubt it will give us buildings that bend like reeds thus staircases are not going to be bending enough to be useless. More likely it gives a greater flexibility around joints within specific small tolerances. Thus the building core: stairs etc. remains intact for longer and permits a greater number of people to escape. Most buildings are already designed in this way anyway with the core escape zone built to withstand more than the rest of the building.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by tomdarch ( 225937 )
      As an architect, I can say that you are thinking about this problem exactly how architects and engineers do, and you've identified most of the critical problems. Along with the fact that "falling stuff inside the building" (e.g. filing cabinets and light fixtures) kill building occupants, fire also kills many people in earthquakes. This "more stretchy" steel won't necessarily help with either of these. Most of our systems for limiting the spread of fire (like drywall, spray-on-fireproofing and concrete b
      • Maybe all the gas pipes and electrical conduits should be made of this stuff. That's what you want to bend and wiggle, maybe get deformed, but not break.
  • Anything like the metal they pulled from that ship that crashed in Roswell?

    • Luckily, Alien Alloys require no Elerium-115 to create.
      • by KORfan ( 524397 )
        Why are you building Alien Alloys? If you catch the base-building fleet on the ground, you'll have more of the stuff than you can store. If you do that a couple of times, you'll be thinking about selling the stuff. You'll also have plenty of Elerium-115, unless you blow the battleship engine rooms the wrong way.
  • I first read the subject line as, "Irony Could Create Earthquake-Proof Buildings"

  • Let's see a terrorist attack THAT. "OH GOD IT'S GONNA CRASH!!!" Boi-oi-oi-oing... "Oh."
  • the building shaking, the building will flail about in the air tossing the inhabitants around like a washing machine. There has to be some stability in the structure to allow people to safely exit.

    I'm sure this approach will protect the buildings, but falling objects and/or people are one of the main causes of injury in an earthquake. I'm not sure this is better.
  • i seriously doubt you can fool mother earth during a 7 or 8 into believing that your building is flexible enough to straighten up 100%. once a slinky gets bent, it never works the same and it's practically impossible to fix it.

  • So the metal can bend, but goes back to its original shape. So the building can spring back to its original shape after the walls flop down and squish you. Yup, that's good for the building.
    • The hard science: [sciencemag.org]

      Shape-memory alloys, such as Ni-Ti and Cu-Zn-Al, show a large reversible strain of more than several percent due to superelasticity. In particular, the Ni-Ti-based alloy, which exhibits some ductility and excellent superelastic strain, is the only superelastic material available for practical applications at present. We herein describe a ferrous polycrystalline, high-strength, shape-memory alloy exhibiting a superelastic strain of more than 13%, with a tensile strength above 1 gigapascal, w

  • "Earthquake proof"? They used to make the same claim for another iron alloy: Steel

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