University of Wisconsin-Platteville students remove their canoe from a trailer at a National Concrete Canoe Competition.
University of Wisconsin-Platteville students remove their canoe from a trailer at a National Concrete Canoe Competition.

It's a rite of spring on many college campuses. Thousands of students, instructors, friends, and family members will again gather on the shores of 15 ponds and lakes to watch concrete stir the cold spring water. This year's National Concrete Canoe Competition, sponsored by the American Society Of Civil Engineers and ACI, is in sprint mode.

Gone are the boxy-looking attempts designed to just tread water. Modern concrete canoes, like their namesake material, now feature high-performance designs cast with sophisticated materials, all the result of thorough research. Read our story on page 20 for more.

The high-tech aspect of this year's competition exemplifies why concrete is gaining the attention of researchers around the world. Students and faculty have learned to appreciate concrete for its versatility and complexity. Visit to learn more.

And this interest in making concrete perform in new ways is attracting attention. Late last month, The New York Times published “Concrete Remixed with the Environment in Mind.” Author Henry Fountain used the I-35W St. Anthony Falls Bridge in Minneapolis as an example of how concrete can be an important tool in solving global warming.

Now that concrete has become cool, hip, and socially accepted, many of these canoe folks are staying to enhance our industry.

There was a time when I would attend the ACI convention and feel young. Of course, I'm normally standing with the old- timers like Bill Palmer, CONCRETE CONSTRUCTION's former editor. Now he may no longer want to associate with me since he received the title of ACI Fellow. But when I looked upon the crowd last month, it seems the pond has changed.

I was amazed by the number of young professionals, faculty members, and graduate students who attended last month's convention in San Antonio. Along with their involvement in important committee work, they offered dozens of important practical research papers and presentations.

Here are three important examples of young professionals who are pushing concrete technology forward. Chul-Woo Chung gave a talk on how to measure early-age stiffening of cement paste using ultrasonic wave reflection, a necessary development as we try to determine appropriate forming systems for self-consolidating concrete. Kyle Hoegh described a new technique for evaluating concrete pavements using ultrasonics, a method that could just as easily work in evaluating precast slabs. And Matt Offenburg discussed the new ACI document on pervious concrete.

Research isn't only happening in cast-in-place concrete. The block industry just completed some earthshaking research at the University of California, San Diego. Researchers tested a full-scale masonry structure on a large outdoor shaking table. The structure was concrete masonry with a brick veneer. A team of researchers from several universities funded largely through a grant from the National Science Foundation, with support from the masonry, industry conducted the tests. While results are pending, the structure did very well, and should help encourage more residential masonry construction in high seismic zones.

The concrete industry is on the brink of a significant market expansion not seen for many years. This growth will not be based on the checkered economics that created a fleeting housing boom, or the government's most recent stimulus package. Our growth will be based on the investment our industry has made in the practical research efforts from these young professionals.