An MIT-led team has defined the nanoscale forces that control how particles pack together during the formation of cement paste. The goal is to modify the microstructure and make concrete stronger, stiffer, more fracture-resistant, and longer-lasting.

"If we can make concrete stronger, we'll need to use less of it in our structures," says Franz-Josef Ulm, professor of CEE and director of the MIT Concrete Sustainability Hub. "And if we can make it more durable, it'll last longer before it needs to be replaced."

Laboratory investigation of a process that can take place over decades isn't practical, so the researchers turned to computer simulations. "Thanks to statistical physics and computational methods, we're able to simulate this system moving toward the equilibrium state in a couple of hours," says Ulm.

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