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  • Created 06 Mar 2009

About the Group

A few thoughts from the FHWA Nanoscale Research Workshop are as follows.

1. Nanotechnology presents high-risk-high-payoff research for civil engineers and the success of such research demands a “requirements-pull” approach (vs. “technology-push approach”). That is, first listen to the end user (industry) needs, and then try to identify/develop the solutions while working closely with the practitioners. Do not force the technology on users. Find the “low-hanging fruits” where nanotechnology can be most viable and helpful and where other technologies have not worked.

2. For my research interests, nanotechnology can be tailored to support climate change and sustainability objectives via a variety of pathways:

2.1. Promote the use of recycled materials and industrial byproducts (and other unconventional materials) in civil engineering applications, either through improved understanding of materials behavior. at the nanoscale (e.g., multiscale characterization and modeling of transport properties of concrete) or through nano-modification (e.g., nanocarbon fibers and nanoclays to boost the strength and durability of concrete admixed with locally available, below-grade aggregates).

2.2. Minimize the environmental toll by improving the durability and long-term performance of civil engineering materials and minimizing the maintenance and rehabilitation actions required, e.g., the use of self-healing coatings for steel bridges or rebar/dowel bar, self-healing concrete (crack control via multiscale reinforcement), penetrating/self-healing deck sealers, nano-modification of steel surface for corrosion and abrasion resistance, and other smart materials (self-actuated sensors that also mitigate distresses).

2.3. Endow conventional civil engineering materials with multifunctionality (optical/electrical/sensing etc.), e.g. the use of nano-TiO2 in concrete overlay or Jersey barriers for self-cleaning which also breaks down environmental contaminants such as hydrocarbon compounds. Think about turning our transportation infrastructure into a great asset for a new concept of “carbon sequestration”!

2.4. Improve the efficiency and reduce the energy consumption and pollution during the design and construction stages, e.g., nano-enhanced cement hydration, nano-facilitated warm mix asphalt (WMA) technology, and nano-enabled rapid construction.

2.5. Enhance the visual inspection of bridges, pavements and other infrastructure (e.g., pressure-sensitive coatings that change color when over-stressed) to improve durability and reliability of transportation infrastructure.

2.6. Enable energy-harvesting in the roadway environment either to power traffic signals or other devices or to arrest rebar corrosion (e.g. nano-powered cathodic protection).

Furthermore, nanotechnology can also be potentially part of the solution to addressing transportation safety and mobility challenges, e.g., nano-modification for better signage, coatings that change color when pavement temperature drops below a threshold or change friction coefficient when actuated.

Other potential transportation-related applications of nanotechnology include: noise mitigation, “cool pavement”, reducing carbon footprint during construction and operations,nano-structured sensors for high density, distributed, smart sensor network to monitor the health of infrastructure or environmental conditions, arresting fire for critical structures, smart pavement sensing the position/movement of vehicle or distresses in pavement, nanoscale electronics (e.g., Quantum Mirage), and so on.

There is so much to do and I am excited to potentially collaborate with outstanding scientists and engineers across the world to move these nano-initiatives forward, for “green” causes :-). So please drop me a line if you are interested in such collaboration (you can reach me at:xianming.shi@gmail.com).


nanoHUB.org, a resource for nanoscience and nanotechnology, is supported by the National Science Foundation and other funding agencies. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.