A microbiologist in the Netherlands invents living "bioconcrete" filled with a bacteria that heals its own cracks.
A concrete petri dish. (via Delft University)
Concrete is a wonder material, but it doesn't always stand up to the ravages of nature. If water gets into even the smallest cracks in the concrete and freezes, it blows the cracks wide open. Then your basement floods. However, buildings in the future might never have that problem, because we now have concrete that heals itself.
Professor Henk Jonkers (great name) in the Netherlands has worked on the problem of creating self-healing concrete since 2006. Obviously, a country protected by a system of seawalls and dykes is in great need of concrete that won't leak. The alternative is hoping for a kind-hearted little Dutch boy to find the leaks in time and plug them with his finger.
Jonkers, a microbiologist, detailed his work to CNN. He researched bacteria that could survive in all the harsh conditions concrete can withstand and what to feed the bacteria to make it grow strong limestone deposits. The next challenge was making the bacteria activate whenever unwanted water was getting through. The bacteria had to be kept separate from the rest of the concrete and provided it's own supply of food. By creating tiny biodegradable plastic capsules, Jonkers could suspend in the bacteria in the concrete so it could be mixed, but still only activate in the presence of invasive water after the concrete has cured. The result is living, self-healing "bioconcrete" as Jonkers calls it. He told CNN about the excitement he has for the future of living structures.
"It is combining nature with construction materials. Nature is supplying us a lot of functionality for free—in this case, limestone-producing bacteria. ... If we can implement it in materials, we can really benefit from it, so I think it's a really nice example of tying nature and the built environments together in one new concept."